§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In rising to move the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill, I cannot help saying that it is the misfortune both of Parliament and of the industry that it should be the subject of such frequent discussion. We had hoped that it would have been possible to have made arrangements outside of Parliament which could have been ratified by the industry as a whole and ultimately have received the consent of Parliament, and it was with that object that throughout the last five months we have been conducting negotiations with the coalowners and the miners. I would remind the House of the position in which the industry now finds itself. By the last Act of last year, the number of hours to be worked in coal mines was fixed at seven and a-half hours per day but that was fixed for only 12 months, and by the 8th July the seven and a-half would automatically have become seven. There appears to be general agreement that a change to seven from seven and a-half would have caused serious economic disturbance, and it was clear that the industry itself was alarmed at seven being automatically reached under the Act of 1931.
Legislation has therefore become absolutely necessary. There are two ways in which it can be dealt with. We might have allowed the matter to drift on until the eleventh hour and then there might have been the usual struggle as between the two sides and ultimately a patched up agreement of one kind or another more or less unsatisfactory. The other way of dealing with it was to embark upon discussions some time in advance of 8th July. We therefore asked, immediately the Christmas holidays were over, the owners and the representatives of the miners to enter into conference, and, in particular, we urged the owners to get into touch with the miners' representatives with a view to reaching a settlement without the necessity of Government intervention, or of the usual ex- 848 perience of the past in embarking upon long-drawn-out negotiations resulting in an eleventh-hour crisis. I regret to say that the efforts which we made to bring the two sides to an agreement failed. Both the coalowners and the miners have long experience in negotiation, and I must confess, after considerable experience in commercial life, that I have come to the conclusion that the hardest bargainers I have ever met are the coalowners—with the exception of the miners' leaders. They deal with very highly technical questions, and they have been well used to debate in the past. Negotiation has been the very breath of their nostrils on both sides, and, although they behave with great courtesy to one another, I must say that from what I have seen of them in the last five months I despair of ever getting them to the same point of view.
The discussions terminated on 28th April in a deadlock. We were not prepared, however, to leave it at that, and since then we have made further efforts to reach an agreement, but I regret to say that we have failed. The only thing that both sides appear to be agreed upon is that this settlement is not a satisfactory settlement. But we are bound, in this House and in the Government, to look upon these questions brought before as for our adjudication from a different point of view from either the owners or the miners. We are all interested in the prosperity of the coal trade. Do not let us imagine for a moment that we could have allowed the coal industry to drift into a deadlock, possibly into something worse, without the whole country suffering. In our view, it is possible to safeguard some of the interests which are concerned, if not all, but we can only do so at all justly, and we are only qualified to express an opinion either as Ministers or as Members, if we realise the present state of the coal-mining industry of Great Britain. Its output is down. Its exports have fallen and are still falling. Since 1924, one-fifth of the total mines then at work have gone out of operation. The output has fallen from 287,000,000 tons in 1913 to 244,000,000 tons in 1930, and last year it fell to 220,000,000. The exports have gone down from 98,000,000 tons in 1913 to 72,500,000 tons in 1930, and last year there was a still further fall to 61,500,000.
849 It is impossible to say what is likely to be the trend of trade during 1932, but with the present state of world trade, the general depression and the enormous supplies of the rival fuel, oil, which can now be bought at prices lower than ever before in the history of the world, it appears to me that the outlook for the coal trade is by no means bright. Not only has the demand for our coal abroad gone down, particularly an the great fuelling centres where oil is taking the place of coal very rapidly, but in the iron and steel industries at home, which have been amongst the largest users of coal, there has been a tremendously heavy fall. In the year before the War the iron and steel trade used about 30,000,000 tons of coal a year. In 1923 that amount was down to 25,000,000, and in 1930 it was less than 19,000,000. As the demand for iron and steel appears to be lower this year than it was last year, I think we may anticipate a still further fall in the use of coal in the smelting of iron and steel.
One does not need to refer to statistics only for an illustration of the state of the coal trade. Anyone who lives in or travels through the coal districts can see for himself the enormously increased stocks of small coal which are a certain indication of the decline in prosperity of the coal trade. If that is the state of the coal trade and those briefly are its prospects, I need hardly say that to have slipped down to a seven hours day on the 8th July, while in the competing countries of Europe the number of hours worked was above that level, could not have been without its effect upon wages. In my own view, the drop to seven hours in the present conditions is impracticable and ought not to be contemplated. Indeed that was the view held by the Labour Government in 1929, for although they were pledged to a seven-hour day they found in 1930 that it was economically impossible and that a seven and a-half hours day was necessary. As the conditions in 1932 are worse than the conditions in 1930 I think we are justified in accepting the same view as the Labour Government, namely, that a seven hours day is not practicable and that a seven and a-half hours day appears to be as low as in present circumstances we can afford to make it.
850 The history of the question of hours of work since 1919 is rather remarkable, and I hope the House will forgive me if I give the four salient facts which cover the fluctuations in the limitations of hours of work. In 1919 the Act provided for a seven hours day. In 1926 we reverted to the eight hours day for a period of five years. In 1930 we came down to seven and a-half hours, and in the Act of last year we re-enacted the seven and a-half hours day for a year. If it were left to me personally, and I had to make my own choice, not being a worker below ground, I frankly confess that I should say that seven hours a day was quite enough, but we have to consider the number of hours worked below ground in connection with the economic condition of the coal trade and the state of the world's demands for coal, and from the prospects which we can all of us more or less accurately foresee it appears to us to be right for the present to fix the hours at seven and a-half. But I wish to make it quite clear that immediately the Geneva Convention is ratified by the seven principal coal-producing countries is Europe we shall be parties to the ratification and the seven and a-quarter hours, which is the period provided for in the Convention, should be the custom in this country as elsewhere. The Minister of Mines, who will be speaking at the opening of to-morrow's Debate, will make special reference to the Geneva transactions and the Geneva Convention, but I wish to make it clear from the outset that when the ratification is undertaken by the seven countries concerned we shall be parties to it and the seven and a-half hours provided for in this Bill will thereafter revert to seven and a-quarter hours. There has been a certain amount of delay in obtaining ratification, but that is not the fault of this country. The International Labour Office, at our request, has been doing what it could to secure ratification by the other countries concerned.
May I turn to another aspect of what is in fact the same problem? You cannot disconnect hours and wages. I think it had become obvious during the last two years, and it is certainly clear now, that if the number of hours below ground had been reduced to seven from seven and a-half, at which it now stands, that would undoubtedly have had an immediate effect upon wages. Anyone who has taken the 851 trouble to go through the intricate calculations by which the miner's wage is arrived at will very soon realise that it would be impossible to reduce his output without reducing his remuneration. The formula under which miners' wages are calculated is one of the most complicated things in our industrial life. There are very few people who understand it. One of the things which has struck me as most remarkable is that when the miner takes home his pay sheet at the end of the week he seems to find it a great deal more simple than we do, although we have spent a good deal of time in calculations of one sort or another, and he knows that if there was a reduction from seven and a-half to seven hours it would have had an effect upon the remuneration of the miners. That is one of the accepted facts, a disagreeable fact, upon which I am afraid we have to make our start in dealing with these problems.
I was much impressed during the negotiations by what was said to me by the miners' representatives on the subject of wages, and supplementing what they told me by more official information—I mean more official information in the sense that it came from a Government Department rather than from any other organisation—I soon came to the conclusion that the one thing that should be safeguarded in any change that was made and in any new legislation was that the wages to be received by the miners during the next 12 months should not be in doubt. In every other industry there has been a very marked decline. FOR instance, I find that at home amongst the engineers and in the various allied metal industries, piecework rates have been reduced so as to yield 25 per cent. above time rates, instead of 33⅓ per cent. That is since the end of June, 1931, the most recent figure. In the building trade there has been a reduction of ½d. per hour for craftsmen and ¼d. to ½d. per hour for labourers. On railways, there has been among the traffic staff a reduction of Is. per week. In the woollen and worsted industries in Yorkshire there has been a reduction which varies from about 11 to 12 per cent. Among the boot and shoe manufacturers the piece-work rates have been reduced in the majority of cases, and all-round 852 reductions made on the revised rates, of 3¾ per cent. for the men and 2½ per cent. for the women. In the shipbuilding and ship-repairing trade, the bonus of 7s. per week has been withdrawn from most piece-workers, and certain other additions to piece-rates have also been withdrawn. Reductions up to 2s. 6d. a week have been made for certain classes of time-workers. In the dock, wharf and riverside transport business, l0d. a day has been knocked off the time-workers, and 7 per cent. on current rates for pieceworkers. Similarly I could go through some of the other industries which show that the general tendency has been downwards.
If the general tendency in the coal trade can be checked, I venture to say that that is something gained for the miners. There are two ways in which that might be provided for. It might be provided for by a definite and direct statement in the Act of Parliament itself, or it might be done by ordinary arrangement, by voluntary negotiation outside. The objection to the first is obvious. Once you start putting wage conditions into Acts of Parliament, you are embarking on a new line of policy which carries with it some very severe penalties, as well as some advantages. [Interruption.] There was a new departure made in the 1931 Act, and that new departure we do not wish to repeat. I have felt it, therefore, all the more incumbent upon me to secure for the miners the reality, for the reality is very much better worth having than anything that might be gained within the bounds of political theory. There was an additional reason for a special effort being made to maintain their present level of wages, because I found that in practically every coalfield in Europe there have recently been, and even so recently as this year, very severe reductions. In Belgium, a 5 per cent. reduction was made in November, 1931, and a further reduction on 20th March this year; in France, 5 per cent. on 1st February, 1932, and a further 2½ per cent. on 1st April this year; in the Saar, 4 per cent. in April this year, and there is to come into operation on 1st July a further 4 per cent. reduction; in the Ruhr, 7 per cent. in October last and a further 10 per cent. now; in Poland, 8 per cent. in February of this year; and in the Netherlands, three reductions, that is, 3 per cent. in 853 August, 1931, 5 per cent. in April, 1932, and 5 per cent. to come into operation on 1st June this year.
With that tendency abroad, it is clear that something drastic had to be done here in order to safeguard the interests of the miner. I, therefore, made it the first condition in the negotiations I had with the coalowners that they should at once give an undertaking for every one of their districts not to reduce wages below the 1931 level. I need hardly say that with such facts as I have read out to the House, it was only with the greatest reluctance that I was able to secure that offer from the coalowners. At first, all that they asked for was that there should be an alteration from seven hours to seven and a-half hours, without any guarantee at all. Under pressure from us, they modified that point of view. They have now given a guarantee to the Government for every one of the districts which will secure to the miners throughout the next 12 months the maintenance of wages at their present level.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It covers the whole of the rates provided for in the Act of 1931. As the hon. Member knows, the basic rates are subject to very great variations in the various coal pits. What this does is to maintain the position provided in the Act of 1931 throughout the years 1932–33, for a period of 12 months, and in exactly the same terms as in the Act of 1931.
I will put the point of view of the owners, and then I will put the point of view of the miners. The owners objected to giving this guarantee until our pressure led to a modification of their view. They asked for seven and a-half hours until ratification, without any wage guarantee at all. We made it clear that we could not be a party to an arrangement of that kind. They ultimately, therefore, have given their guarantee. The miners, on their part, were only prepared to consent to a seven and a-half hour day provided there was a wage guarantee in the Bill, and they wished 854 the guarantee for wages to cover the same period as that which was covered by the seven and a-half hours. They added that if a 12 months guarantee was given, then at the end of the 12 months they wished to see such machinery brought into action as would prevent any attack being made upon district wages. I think that I have put quite concisely and fully the points of view held by them. With regard to the first point, which I know has been very present in the minds of my hon. Friends opposite, that the period for the seven and a-half hours is five years, whereas the period of the guarantee is only for 12 months—no, I should say that the seven and a-half hours is not for five years, but is really left without limit, but it has the limitation of the Geneva Convention behind it.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I do not take the same hopeless view about Geneva as my hon. Friend opposite. I believe it is possible, by international arrangement, to obtain a reduction of hours, and we shall do everything in our power to attain that end; but when the Minister of Mines has spoken to-morrow, I am sure the House will be convinced that limitation is put forward in good faith, and with the whole weight of the Government behind it. It is obvious, when dealing with the subject of wages, that wages must bear some relation to the state of world trade and the coal trade in particular. Is there anyone who can prophesy as to what will be the condition of the coal trade next year? Indeed, some people most intimately connected with the coal trade declare that the coalowners have been rash to give a guarantee even for 12 months. [Interruption.] That is their view; I am stating their view as plainly as I have stated that of the miners. They say the offer made by the coalowners is a rash offer. In the present circumstances, we cannot look ahead beyond next year. We cannot see beyond that, and I think it is only natural—I say no more than that—that, having had this guarantee produced under pressure, the coalowners should say that, considering the nature of the trade at home and abroad, they cannot undertake to give a guarantee for a longer period than that.
855 With those two limitations, therefore, the miners by themselves are unable to enter into an agreed arrangement with the coal-owners. The coalowners, on the other hand, have also stated that they cannot agree to national negotiations with regard to wages. That is no new point. I need hardly say it has been the subject of dispute as long as any of us in this House has had anything to do with coal negotiations. The view of the coal-owners, stated very briefly, is that they are organised through their districts, and each district has its own peculiar condition. The Mining Association was not set up for the purpose of dealing with wages, and if it were to attempt to deal with wages on a national basis, it would at once break down. It could not be maintained for that purpose. They say quite definitely, therefore, that, so far as they are concerned, they cannot undertake to arrive at any agreement with the miners or with the Government which will provide for national negotiations at the end of the 12 months.
I need hardly say that I should have been very glad to have seen that possible, and I did hope even up to the last moment that the National Industrial Board might have provided us with a means whereby we could have dealt with miners' wages on a national basis. It might have helped us at the end of the 12 months guarantee if the National Industrial Board could have surveyed the situation, as they could have taken a wider view than those directly engaged in coal mining and the management of coal mines and the Miners' Federation. But I find, on the one side, the coalowners were not prepared to hand over to the National Industrial Board a decision of this kind, and, on the other, the miners were not prepared to accept anything which was in the nature of compulsory arbitration. That is by no means a new point of view. They have always been opposed to compulsory arbitration, and that still remains their view. In these circumstances, it appeared to be impossible for us to reach a point where, by utilising the National Industrial Board, we could at the end of the 12 months on which we are now embarking have found some better, broader way of dealing with wages than merely with the district organisations themselves. However, that is 856 the position as we have found it. I am bound to bring it to the House in that state, because the coalowners and the miners were not prepared to give way.
The initiative, therefore, has reverted to us, and we have decided to introduce the Bill now before the House. It provides that Part I—another essential element in the maintenance of price, and, therefore, in the maintenance of wages—should be continued for a period of five years, and that we should regard this as the means by which the coalowners should be able to maintain wages at their present level. If Part I had lapsed now, it is generally agreed that there would have been an all-round average fall of about 2s. 6d. per ton, which, of course, would have had a direct effect upon the wages of the miners. It would have put out of profitable working all the districts of Great Britain. I admit that it would be difficult to arrive at a correct calculation of what would be the effect of the suspension or termination of Part I, but it appears to be generally agreed that Part I is essential for the maintenance of prices at an economic level.
Unfortunately Part I does not meet with universal approbation. Some districts think that it has been operated to their detriment, and I fear that there are a good many instances in other districts where it has been so manipulated by those who want to get round it that the limitations placed on honourable coalowners have not always been observed by those of a lower standard of honour. I have come across instances where by combining the sale of coke with the sale of coal it has been possible to get round the minimum price. I have seen instances where by the manipulation of nominal freights it has been possible to evade Part I. Subsidiary companies have been used in some instances for this purpose, and I fear that, as occasionally happens, there has been a little manipulation of quality amongst some coal merchants, coal exporters and coalowners. But these instances, I am glad to think, are not numerous. They could all have been dealt with under the Act of 1930. The District Board could have dealt with every one of these complaints if they had been properly put before it, but it has been felt in the districts where complaint has been made most strongly that it was very little use bringing up the matter now, stirring up a great deal 857 of trouble, when Part I was likely to lapse at an early date. One of the reasons why we are proposing to Parliament that Part I should be re-enacted for five years is that with a five-year period it will be possible within the coal trade for due discipline to be exercised and for some of these irregularities to be brought to an end. The longer the period the less likelihood there is of these irregularities being tolerated and the more hope of the industry itself taking a firm hand with the delinquents.
I have given a very short but I hope an adequate account of the proposals made by the Government. They practically amount to this. We have done what we can to maintain miners' wages at the 1931 level, and we have obtained from the coalowners guarantees which will secure that end We have enabled the coal trade itself to keep prices up and obtain for their commodity enough to enable it to pay these higher wages. That necessitated the re-enactment of Part I for a period of five years at least. The seven and a-half hours will remain the period of time worked by miners below ground until the Geneva Convention has been ratified, when seven and a-quarter hours will be the level. We put forward these proposals on the responsibility of the Government in full time to enable the new settlement to be recognised before we come to the eleventh hour. We are avoiding one of those disorganising and unseemly crises, and we hope that the House will give its consent to the proposals we have made. I only wish it had been possible for the miners and coal-owners to have come to an agreement themselves on this subject. That is the natural thing to do, and it is the proper thing to do.
We have been reluctant to intervene, and when we have intervened we have done so with proposals which are simple and which we hope will be effective. We are giving to the coalowners stability and as great a degree of permanence in an ever-changing world of commerce and industry as is possible by any Act of Parliament. We are giving to the miners safety from a decline in wages during the next 12 months—a decline which has been almost universal. We are, I hope, when the Bill has been passed, taking coal mining out of the arena of politics for at least a period of five years. [Interruption.] If all other industries 858 had the same history with regard to Parliament as the coal industry we should be in a most unhappy position. No industry can afford to rely on politics for its existence, with all the disappointments and fluctuations of political life.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
We are not increasing working hours. We are leaving them exactly where we found them as handed down to us by the Labour Government. It should be the aim of all those engaged in the coal mining industry to concentrate on the business of the production, sale and use of coal. There is within the limits of these subjects ample ground for all the ingenuity of the best business brains in every grade to be found in the coal industry. Let them at least take full advantage of the powers granted by Parliament and of such changes as science can produce. If I were allowed in this House to speak as a prophet I should say without the least hesitation that the hope for the coal trade, and for every grade of the coal trade, miners and coalowners, merchants and exporters, and users, lies not in the arena of politics but in the arena of science.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:this House regrets the failure to ratify the international convention limiting the hours of work underground, and declines to assent to the Second Reading of a Bill dealing with the coal mines industry which does not restore the seven-hour working day or provide for the continuation of the existing legal enactment on wages, introduces no improvements in the national regulation of wages, and ignores the urgent necessity for reorganisation under national control in order to reinstate the industry in the economic life of the nation.We have listened to a clear and lucid statement from the President of the Board of Trade in explaining the purpose of the Bill He can hardly expect us to agree with some of his statements, and in the course of my speech I shall endeavour to point out to him the differences which exist. In almost his closing sentence he said that as a result of this Bill he was hoping that coal would be taken out of the arena of politics for five years. In my opinion coal plays such an important part in the economic 859 and industrial life of this nation that this House will have to give in the future, as it has in the past, a great deal of consideration to this problem of coal. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the stability which he is giving to the coalowners of this country. That is the complaint which we register from this side. He is giving stability to the coal-owners, but none to the coal miners. Everyone who knows anything of the coal industry will agree with the picture he painted as to the conditions of the industry in this and other coal-producing countries. It is a very painful picture, but if there is any consolation to be obtained—I am not arguing that there is much consolation in it—it is a fact that the reduction in output and sale of coal from this country during last year and the first quarter of this year is lower than in almost all the large coal-producing countries in the world. I attribute this largely to the work which was done by the late Mr. William Graham, to whom a tribute should be paid when we are considering anything which has to do with Part I of the 1930 Act.
The question of coal cannot be discussed fully without first placing a background to it. For the last 12 years, indeed for the last 20 years, this House almost every year has had to deal with this problem, and more so since the War. Not only has this House had to deal with the problem but the time of some of the most eminent business men and statesmen has been taken up in sitting on committees and commissions in order to find a solution for the problem. As far as the miners are concerned I thought that the President of the Board of Trade was rather hard and unjust in his reference to them as negotiators. He referred to the mineowners as being hard negotiators and said that if there was one body which was harder it was the miners' representatives. I must point out to him that he has given very little room or opportunity for the miners' representatives to negotiate with the coalowners with his assistance, and that if any body of negotiators has been handed over to those with whom they have to negotiate it has been the miners' representatives.
Can it be said that at any time from 1920 to 1932 any stoppage of any magni- 860 tude in this country has been caused by unjust demands made by the miners upon the mineowners? Was the stoppage of 1921, which lasted 13 weeks, caused by unjust demands made by the miners upon the owners or the nation?
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. HALL
The hon. Member may be an expert in engineering but he evidently knows very little about coal. At no time during the last 12 years have the miners' representatives caused any crisis. What they have had to do has been to meet unjust attacks forced upon them by the coalowners. Let us view the position and see how the miners have sacrificed. The Lord President of the Council in 1925 or 1926 made the statement that there was no other section of the community in this country which had made greater sacrifices to bring about the economic stability of the industry in which they were employed than the miners. From 1920 until the present time miners' wages have been reduced by over 50 per cent. In 1920 the cash wages per person employed amounted to £224 per annum. In 1931 the cash wages per person employed worked out at £lll 10s. per annum. [HON. MEMBERS: "Men and boys‡"] I am obliged for that interruption. The figures refer to all persons under the position of colliery manager, that is boys, men, officials, and every person. What does that mean? It means that from 1920 until 1932 the miners have made a contribution amounting to over £1,000,000,000 in wages in an endeavour to make the industry prosperous. Not only have they suffered a reduction in wages, but their output has increased from 187 tons in the year 1920 to no less than 265 to 275 tons in the year 1931. The pithead price of coal has been reduced by more than one-half.
All that the miners asked during the course of the discussions which have taken place in the negotiations is that they should have some security as far as wages are concerned. To appreciate the 861 nature of the present Bill it is necessary to go back to the origin of the legislation which this Bill is to replace. That is the Coal Mines Act of 1931. I do not want to follow too closely the statement of the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman stated that last year the seven and a-half hours day was extended until this year. That is so. This legislation is necessary as a result. The negotiations which preceded this legislation were very largely caused because the seven and a-half hours day expires on 8th July. Let me make it clear to the House and to the country that the miners have not given up their right to a seven hours day. Their working hours were extended in 1926. They regard that extra hour as having been forced upon them, or stolen from them, and they will make a request on every possible occasion for a restoration of the seven hours day.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the extension of the seven and a-half hours day by the Labour Government. If he asked the Prime Minister why that legislation was introduced and passed in the form in which it was passed, the Prime Minister would give him the reason. I am hoping to deal with that matter. It is true to say that that settlement was accepted by the miners in the hope that at the end of the 12 months better terms would be possible. They were promised at the same time that every effort would be made to ratify the Geneva Convention. They were also informed that the marketing scheme, which was included in Part I of the 1930 Act, would have full play of operation, and that there was a possibility of the industry improving as a result of that. But it was understood that when that legislation was passed every effort would be made by the Government, and that effort was promised, so far as the miners were concerned, with a view of endeavouring to arrive at an amicable settlement before 8th July of this year.
Those of us who were in the House and heard the speech that was made by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. E. Edwards), the then acting President of the Miners' Federation—that was when the Bill was read a Second time on 6th July of last year—will remember the plea which he made to the coalowners of the country to meet the miners. The miners were prepared then or at any time to 862 negotiate this question. What the hon. Member for Morpeth said was:We want to utilise from now onwards, and I take this opportunity of making the offer to the employers now—we want to utilise from now onwards the two great national organisations, so that we may not only maintain the existing conditions in the industry, but by joint conscientious and considered action, we may be able to build that industry higher towards the day when it will give to our men a living wage.— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931; col. 1769, Vol. 254.]That offer was made, and there was a response by the then Secretary for Mines. He said, taking into account the speech which was made by Mr. Edwards:There is no need for a further crisis if the mine owners will respond to the appeal of the hon. Member for Morpeth."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931; col. 1795, Vol. 254.]He hoped a response would be made But what happened? Not from July of last year until April of this year was there any request made by the mineowners or any reply given to the request made by the miners for a meeting. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade may have been negotiating since Christmas, but he has not negotiated with the miners' representatives. The very first opportunity given to the miners' representatives to negotiate this matter was on 8th April of this year. What was the reception which they had from the mineowners? They were told that the mineowners were insistent upon the continuation of a seven and a-half hours day, without any guarantee for wages placed in the Bill. As far as the coalowners were concerned, any negotiations between them and the miners' representatives at that time were at an end. My friend the General Secretary of the Miners' Federation had no end of difficulty in getting the owners to agree to a statement for Issue to the Press, to give an indication that there was a possibility of negotiations continuing.
Mr. Edwards and the Executive then met the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines, and gave them a report of what actually took place between the representatives of the miners and the owners. The President of the Board of Trade counselled patience. He said, "You go and see the mineowners again. You may find them in a much more reasonable mood than they were 863 in when you last saw them." They did see the owners' representatives again. That was on 28th April, but so far as any possibility of negotiating was concerned they were in exactly the same condition as before. That was the last occasion on which the miners' representatives had an interview with representatives of the owners. I was rather surprised at the credit which the President of the Board of Trade has given to himself regarding the guarantee from the districts for a continuation of the wages.
I do not want to take from the right hon. Gentleman any credit to which he is entitled. But during the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred to the very great pressure which had to be exercised upon the coalowners to give this guarantee. The same offer was given by the coalowners to the Labour Government this time last year. That guarantee was not then good enough to the Prime Minister and the Labour Government. The Prime Minister of this country has not changed in person, but his opinions with regard to trusting the coalowners have considerably modified. I trust it is not a result of the company he has been keeping. But let us take the position as far as the offer which the owners made to the miners' representatives on 28th April of this year is concerned. Precisely what is contained in this Bill. The owners propose seven and a-half hours without limit of time, save such as might result from legislation ratifying the International Convention, adopted and applied also to other coal-producing countries. The representatives of the Miners' Federation said that the federation could not agree to this unless there were satisfactory guarantees of wages. The mine-owners intimated that before legislation was passed continuing the seven and a-half hours day, without limit of time save as indicated above and without reference to wages, they would secure guarantees of wages from the districts for 12 months, similar to those given last year. From 28th April of this year the President of the Board of Trade has been exercising pressure for something which the miners' representatives had offered to them six weeks ago. I am taking the statement which the right hon. Gentleman himself made to-day, a statement which he emphasised on more than one occasion 864 during his speech, as to the very great pressure which had to be brought on the coalowners before they would concede this guarantee for 12 months.
§ Mr. HALL
If so, then I hardly know what has been done from 28th April to now, unless the owners have simply repeated what they told the Prime Minister this time last year. That has been the difficulty, so far as the owners are concerned. They have placed themselves in the position of simply repeating what they have said, and they make no concession. How can negotiations be carried on when a pistol is levelled at your head and you are told, "Unless you agree to this, so far as we are concerned we will have nothing more to do with the matter." That has been the attitude of the coalowners from the first, and it is still their attitude.
Our complaint against the Government is that they have listened to everything and accepted as the basis of a settlement everything which the coalowners have said, instead of being as impartial as possible and getting this guarantee. Why not continue the seven and a-half hours day as long as the owners are prepared to guarantee wages? If there was any difficulty why not continue the present Act for another 12 months? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he is going to avoid a crisis at the end of 12 months? He is. only going to aggravate the position. By what he is proposing to do he is going to make it possible for inroads to be made into the already low wages prevailing in some of the districts. The last time the miners' executive met the coalowners they were referred back to the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman said, "Well, we will see what can be done. I will let you know if any change will take place." That was on 3rd May and from 3rd May until 25th May the miners' representatives heard nothing from the right hon. Gentleman. There was no discussion with the miners' representatives regarding Part I of the Act. There was no discussion at all with the miners' representatives regarding the Acts of 1930 or 1931. There was no discussion at all with the miners' representatives regarding the offer which 865 had been made with the owners, and, as regards the right hon. Gentleman's statement that this is a settlement to which neither owners nor workmen are agreed, he knows very well that he has conceded everything which the owners asked and that the owners themselves, even before the right hon. Gentleman came in, would have willingly conceded what has been asked from them.
I think we have a complaint against the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which this legislation has been introduced. On 29th March, almost immediately after the miners had a meeting with the owners, the "Times" reported that it was proposed that a Bill should be introduced dealing with the extension of the seven hours day. The Bill, it was stated, would not only continue the seven and a-half hours day for a further period or until the ratification of the Geneva Convention, but would renew Part I of the Coal Mines Act dealing with the regulation of output which was to expire at the end of the year. That report also appeared in a well-known paper in South Wales, "The Western Mail and South Wales News." It was in the "Times" on 29th April and in the "Western Mail" on 30th April. The Secretary of the Miners' Federation was rather alarmed about this report, in view of the definite promise which the right hon. Gentleman gave him that he would keep him informed with regard to any change or anything which was going to be done, and he gave an interview to the Press on 30th April. That was followed by an interview which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the miners' executive, when he said that the report was unauthorised, incorrect and without foundation.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I made my communications on that subject directly to the Miners' Federation and not to the Press.
§ Mr. HALL
If I said otherwise I certainly withdraw, but what I intended to say was that the Secretary of the Miners' Federation following on the reports in the Press to which I have referred gave an interview to the Press calling atten- 866 tion to what he regarded as a breach of faith. The right hon. Gentleman quickly responded, as far as meeting the miners' Executive was concerned, and he pointed out to them that there was no truth in the statement which had appeared in the Press; that it was, as I have already said, unauthorised, inaccurate and without foundation. The next thing which the Miners' Federation heard from the right hon. Gentleman was on the 25th May this year when he wrote to the Secretary of the Miners' Federation pointing out that it was the intention of the Government to introduce legislation.
The point which I wish to make is this. Here is a body representing 1,000,000 miners in this country, representing in all a population of 4,000,000 people and, for over a month, no communication was received by them from the right hon. Gentleman on this subject until on 25th May they receive an intimation that legislation is going to be introduced. The Miners' Federation had carefully prepared a statement of their views on Part I of the 1930 Act. They have very strong views not only on hours but on Part IV of the Act. But on no occasion has the right hon. Gentleman invited the Miners' Federation to place their views before him. Legislation has been introduced without consultation, and certainly without agreement with the Miners' Federation. We take a very strong stand regarding this guarantee of wages. Why is it the coalowners will not guarantee a wage beyond 12 months? Why is it that the Government will not insist upon a guaranteed wage beyond 12 months? Are the coalowners of opinion that there are possibilities of further reduction in wages? Are the Government of opinion that it is possible further to reduce miners' wages? If the owners and the Government were of the opinion that wages are already too low— and they are too low— then there would be the possibility of getting this guarantee.
I am not going to deal with Part I of the 1930 Act other than to say that it is very interesting to find the Secretary for Mines now asking for the continuation of Part I which he voted against in 1930. He was one of those who regarded Part I as an infliction upon the nation and as something which was going to raise the price of coal to the poorer 867 people of the country. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in that picturesque language of which he is a master, referring to the fact that on the morning of that discussion he had looked out of his bedroom window and had seen the ground covered with frost and he said how very opportune it was on such a day to go to the House of Commons to vote for a Bill which would increase the price of coal to the poor people of the country by 4s. 6d. a ton. He insisted that Part I would be the means of increasing the price to the people by 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. a ton. I am not going to say, "I told you so," but to those who then anticipated such a rise in price, I would point out that the figures do not bear out the view expressed by hon. and right hon. Gentleman at that time. It cannot be said that there has been an increase in the price of coal.
What the Act has done has been to stabilise the price of coal. There is very little variation. I think there is just about 3d. a ton variation as between the commercial proceeds of coal sold last year compared with coal sold in the year previously. Notwithstanding all the difficulties which are found in the export coal trade of the world, and they are many, the export trade has been able to maintain a fairly stable price for coal sent from this country. Some districts have suffered but, in the main, the Act has more than justified itself. The only people asking for the repeal of Part I are the coal exporters, the Chambers of Commerce and people interested not in the production but the distribution of coal. Speaking on behalf of my hon. Friends this side, I say that we are very pleased that the Government are continuing Part I of the Act. We hope that the coalowners will make greater use of it during the next five years than they have made during the past year. There are possibilities in this Act of bringing about stability in the price of coal in this country.
We were also very interested in the right hon. Gentleman's statement regarding hours. I have emphasised the fact that the coal miners of this country are insistent upon a return to the seven hours day. This Bill is going not merely to prolong but to continue indefinitely the 868 seven and a-half hours day, and the miners are of opinion that during the continuance of the present Government, whether in the form of a National Government or as a Conservative Government, there will be no reduction in the working hours of the miners. I was interested in the reply given to a question this afternoon by the Secretary for Mines regarding the Geneva Convention. I know that the hon. Gentleman is going to deal with the matter fully to-morrow, but I may say that we are very suspicious of the attitude of the Government towards the ratification of this Convention. The Prime Minister definitely stated that every effort would be made by his Government with a view to ratifying that Convention, but a change has taken place in the course of the present year. I understand there is a request that there should be revisions and it is very significant, notwithstanding the fact that the mineowners were represented at the Convention, when there was an agreement to make every effort to get back to the seven and a-quarter hours day, they abstained from voting.
Those who represented the Government at that time were under the impression that the coalowners were agreed, but since this Government has been returned it is significant to note the views of the more prominent coalowners of this country regarding the ratification of the Geneva Convention. I have here a statement made by Mr. Edmund Hamn, head of one of the largest coal companies in South Wales, in which, referring to the July difficulty, he says that it would be calamitous to the trade and the country if disaster were not averted. He goes on to say that the state of the coal trade is worse to-day than it was in 1929, and that it is the duty of Parliament at the earliest possible moment to pass a Measure to maintain unchanged the present working hours without limit of time. Then, he says, we can settle down to do our business. He goes on to say:On the other hand any reduction such as that contemplated by the unfortunate Geneva Convention of last year would result in strife and ruin.Then the "Western Mail," which is regarded by the miners as being very largely the mouthpiece of the Coalowners Association, wrote last week: 869It is pointed out that in the first place it was unnecessary for any reference to be made to the draft International Convention still further limiting the hours of work underground. The owners' view is that if and when the question of ratification comes before Parliament, the Convention ought to be considered on its merits and in the light of the circumstances.They went on to say that as far as they could ascertain the owners were opposed to ratification. Then the leading article in the "Colliery Guardian" last week, which again may be regarded as an expression of the opinion of the coal-owners, said:We think that the Government in escaping from the toils of the time limit has met the situation in a rational way which will commend itself to the general body of coalowners. The seven and a-half hours day is to be continued indefinitely or until the Geneva Hours Convention is ratified by all the Powers. So far as can be seen at present, Spain being the only European country to ratify, this is a contingency that need not cause many sleepless nights.5.0 p.m.
Is that why the Secretary for Mines asked for a postponement of the meeting which was to be held in Geneva on 20th April this year? We must remember that the meeting was postponed at the request of the Secretary for Mines. Is it because he has now ascertained that there is a change of opinion with the coalowners, and that they are not prepared to assist in the ratification of the Convention? The miners last year accepted the agreement because they were informed by the Prime Minister that every possible effort would be made during the course of 12 months to get this Convention ratified. I have a statement here made by the Prime Minister as follows:They (the owners) are fully aware that as soon as that Convention is ready for legislation it will be the subject of legislation. They offer no objection in principle at all; they say there are one or two things they would like to discuss with us, the question of international enforcement— we know all that; that will have to be done in any event— but they offer no objection at all to the Government producing a scheme on that when it is ready; and you will have no trouble there.That was the Prime Minister when this legislation was discussed in the House, and I could go on ad lib. dealing with pledges which were given by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary for Mines with a view to making every effort to get 870 the Convention ratified during the course of 12 months.
§ Mr. HALL
Yes. Now we come to the question of wages, and I want to emphasise the importance of this question. I have already referred to the pledges made by the mineowners. We are very concerned as to what will happen at the end of 12 months. We cannot trust the owners. Every effort will be made by them further to depress the standard of life. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the position in foreign countries, but I want to deal with the miners in this country. In the exporting areas, in Scotland the average wages are 30 per cent above pre-War, when the cost of living is something between 44 and 45 per cent.; in Northumberland, 23 per cent.; in Durham, 30 per cent.; and in South Wales 31 per cent. To the pieceworker those wages include all the tools which they have to use, and the cost of tools is a very heavy item. The piecework colliers in South Wales have an increase of something like 13 per cent above pre-War; hauliers, 12 per cent; banksmen, 12.5 per cent.; and skilled craftsmen working on the surface, not more than 12 to 15 per cent. That is the limit for which the men should be asked to work.
It is said that a legal minimum wage is a new and dangerous precedent. The right hon. Gentleman referred to that fact this afternoon. We do not want to argue upon precedents; we are arguing upon need, and we say that whatever the precedents might be, we ask this House to give those men who are employed in the most arduous and dangerous occupation in this country a guarantee that their standard of life will not be further depressed. The trouble is that there is no machinery for dealing with national agreements. The mineowners will not agree to submit their case to the Industrial Board. All that they want is to make inroads in the districts, so that, they think, their actions will be hidden. I desire to give the right hon. Gentleman some of the figures which were offered by the coalowners in South Wales to the miners in November, 1929, when they asked the miners to agree to reductions 871 in wages varying from 9s. to something like 18s. a week upon their already low standard.
You cannot deal with this question without introducing a considerable amount of feeling. Go into the mining districts at the present time. It is a sight that beggars description. I have lived in a mining village all my life, but I have never known the conditions existing such as they are, and it is very largely owing to unemployment and low wages. There is no industry in the country where the percentage increase upon pre-war is as low as it is in the mining industry. The right hon. Gentleman referred to reductions which have taken place with bricklayers and with other groups of workpeople in this country. We are not arguing for a moment that the workpeople employed in other industries are getting too much. We are arguing that the men employed in the mining industry are getting much too little, and we would expect the Government to assist us in this matter.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of a precedent for a legal enactment. There is such a thing as a Miners' Minimum Wage Act. I do not argue that it is analogous to the legislation contained in the 1931 Act, but there are such things as trade boards and sweated industries; and if the right hon. Gentleman can be convinced that the wages paid in the mining industry at the present time are lower than the wages paid in those industries which have the advantage of. a trade board, will he then agree that a legal enactment giving a minimum wage shall apply to the mining industry? He must remember that the Trade Boards Act applies to sweated industries, and I make him this challenge, that if he will agree, we will prove to him that in the so-called sweated industries of this country the wages paid to the workpeople are higher than the wages which are paid in some of the mining districts of this country— [An HON. MEMBER: "Per hour"]— per hour or per week. We emphasise the need for getting this guarantee.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to wages paid in foreign countries and said there had been reductions in the wages of the miners in Belgium, Poland, Germany, and sundry other countries. That may be so, but what has been the differ- 872 ence between this country and the coal-producing countries in Europe since 1925? Since 1925 there has been a constant reduction in the wages of the men employed in the mining industry of this country, but in other European countries the reverse has been the case, with the exception of the reductions which are taking place at the present time. Let me give one or two examples. In 1929, taking the figure for Great Britain as 100, for the purpose of arriving at a basis, the wages paid on the Ruhr were 95, and in 1931 they had increased to 109, and in almost every case it is the same. In Belgium there was an increase of 7 per cent., in France an increase from 63 per cent to 82 per cent., and in Poland from 52 per cent to 66 per cent.
Let me put it a little clearer. In 1925 the wages paid to the miners of this country averaged 12s. 1d. per day, and, taking the figure for 1925 as 100 again as a basis, in 1927 the wages were reduced by 4 per cent as compared with 1925; in 1929 they were reduced to 87, or 13 per cent less; and in 1931 they were further reduced to 76, or a reduction of 24 per cent as compared with 1925. In Belgium, again taking 100 as the basis for 1925, the wages in 1927 were increased to 159, and in 1931 the wages were 138, as compared with the 100 in 1925. In Poland in 1931 the wages were 145 as compared with the 100 in 1925, and in France they were 119; and in almost every case for the last seven years the wages of the miners of this country have been reduced, while the wages of the countries in Europe competing with this country have gradually increased.
I referred in a previous Debate in this House to the price at which we can put coal into Belgium at the present time. Some three months ago the Belgian railways, as is the custom, invited tenders for 600,000 tons of coal from this country, and they also invited tenders from the Belgian mines. The tenders which they received for a supply of 600,000 tons of coal from this country indicated that they could get that coal at 65 francs per ton; the lowest tender from the Belgian mines was from 100 to 110 francs a ton, and the only reason that further reductions have taken place on the Continent during the last 12 months is, of course, that we have gone off the Gold Standard and that in continental countries they can buy British coal 873 cheaper than it can be supplied by their own coalowners. That is a reply regarding the statements which the right hon. Gentleman has made on the question of wages.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister again last year made the definite statement that, as far as he was concerned, the seven and a-half hours day would only continue co-terminous with the question of wages, that you could not separate the one from the other. He said:If the temporary 12 months period expires before the ratification.That is with regard to the question of the Geneva Convention, and he has made statement after statement regarding this question of a guaranteed wage for the miners of this country. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has consulted the Prime Minister regarding this Bill, because if the Prime Minister is going to agree to this Bill, there is a great deal of inconsistency in his attitude as compared with last year. We hold very strong views regarding this question of the miners' wages. We think that the right hon. Gentleman has conceded everything for which the mineowners have asked. This Bill is a class Bill, and the miners can look for no hope, as far as the mining industry is concerned, for the next five years. The right hon. Gentleman has given the mineowners a blank cheque and has said to them, in effect, "Go and do as you will, and the Government will not interfere." That is the purposes of the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made this afternoon, and that is what will be read into it by the great mining population.
In our Amendment we say that this industry still calls for further organisation. We think that it can stand amalgamation. Deplorable as the coal mining industry is, the right hon. Gentleman must know that, if the industry is taken as a whole and as one industrial unit in the economic life of the nation as it should be taken, profits are still being made. The profits are not very high, but in 1931, £3,300,000 profits were made, that is, of course, allowing for the difficulties which have arisen in the coal export areas. In the year before, £3,800,000 profits were made. We think that there is room for improvement and that the industry can still be made prosperous. 874 Profits can still be made, but not profits for the many people who are expecting profits out of it; profits can be made if the industry is properly co-ordinated under one body. We ask that it should be coordinated and controlled by the nation.
During the week-end I have been reading an interesting book which was recently published by Mr. Merrett, of Cardiff, a-man who occupies a very responsible position. He is responsible for the selling of coal which is produced at no fewer than 100 collieries. With his company and the companies with which he is associated, his book indicates the insane competition which is going on not only in the inland market but in the foreign markets. He makes the definite statement that there are British exporters of coal who are more concerned about selling coal which is produced in Poland and Germany, and even in Russia, than they are about selling British coal. He indicates how a levy could be raised in South Wales alone, which would be paid by the foreigner and would create a fund of something like £1,000,000 a year for dealing with the organisation of the export of coal. He indicates how hundreds of thousands of pounds could be spent in pit wood every year, and how this constant competition is going on between different exporters, so that they cannot get the maximum price for their coal.
One is inclined to say that, notwithstanding the fact that the mines of this country have some of the most efficient and capable mining engineers in the world, and the fact that the Mining Association is made up of capable business men, the only purpose which the association has and the only thing on which they can agree is the depressing of the conditions of employment of the men who are in their employ. Has the Mining Association on any occasion during the last 10 years, during the period when the industry has been passing through the greatest crisis of its history, ever made a constructive suggestion as to how to put the industry right? It is the most conservative body of men one could meet. Not only have they been the despair of successive Prime Ministers, Presidents of the Board of Trade and Secretaries for Mines, but they have been the despair of every representative public man whom they have met.
875 Much can be done with this question of organisation, but this Government, as every Conservative Government since the War, has given the coalowners all that they have asked, without asking anything in return. All we ask is for a guaranteed wage. Is that an unreasonable request? Is it an unreasonable demand? If the owners are to have these concessions, what are they going to do in return? The owners say, "We will take everything that we can get, but we will give nothing in return." The mining population of this country does not want a crisis. They do not want a stoppage, and they have not invited a stoppage by any action of theirs during the last 12 years, either nationally or locally, but they will prefer to starve rather than accept the conditions which the Mining Association and the coalowners are inclined to impose on them. I am disappointed with the President of the Board of Trade, and more than disappointed with the Secretary for Mines. I did think, notwithstanding all the difficulties that they had with some of their back bench Members, that they would have the courage if not to give a legal guarantee or to continue the 1931 Act, to allow the hours and wages agreement to dissolve or be discontinued at one and the same time.
May I ask the President of the Board of Trade whether it is the Government's intention to do anything with regard to Part IV of the 1930 Act? The miners' representatives, as he rightly said, were prepared to use the National Industrial Board. They are still prepared to use that board. The right hon. Gentleman referred to a difference of opinion and said that the owners would not attend the National Wages Board and that the miners would not accept compulsory arbitration. Has Part IV been discussed with the representatives of the Miners' Federation? I suggest that it might be helpful if during the proceedings of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman got into touch with the Miners' Federation on this question. May I also ask the intention of the Government with regard to Part II of the 1930 Act? I understand that very little work is being done under that Part. Is it the Government's intention to proceed vigorously with it? We are very disappointed with this legislation. We had hoped that this National Govern- 876 ment would at least have recognised the sacrifice which the miners have made, the nature of the employment in which they are engaged, and the fact that they are employed in the most dangerous and arduous occupation in the country. The only sympathy that the miners can get from the right hon. Gentleman and the Government is this, "You have a guarantee of your already low wages for 12 months, and at the end of 12 months you will be thrown to the wolves."
§ Viscount CASTLEREAGH
I should like to ask the House for the leniency which it usually extends to those who address it for the first time. I would not have ventured to intervene in such an important Debate had I not been so closely connected with the coal industry. I do not pretend to speak with that knowledge and personal experience which is possessed by so many hon. Members opposite, but I venture to say my few words as one who in the last few years has played a small part in the management side of this important industry. There are many features of this Bill which I do not like, although I am the first to realise the necessity of legislation. The Act passed last year was an unfortunate Measure, for it has done a lot to increase the instability and uncertainty that is so prevalent in the industry. I admit that the circumstances are very difficult, but, at the same time, I cannot help thinking that a form of legislation which postpones the evil day for a year in the hope of better times is a form of legislation that can never succeed. In 1929 the Prime Minister said that his Government intended to introduce Measures which would not be of a temporary or patchwork nature. The Coal Mines Act that followed certainly introduced features which were not of a temporary nature, but the Act of last year was an example of pure patchwork.
This Bill aims at stabilising the hours at seven and a-half plus winding time until the Convention is ratified. I had hoped that the settlement would have been satisfactory to the great proportion of the people of this country. If the industry went back to the seven-hour day, it might be hailed in some quarters as a victory for the Miners' Federation, but it would, in reality, completely destroy the mining industry. If we returned to the seven-hour day, it would mean the 877 closing of a great number of pits and consequent unemployment; it would be a blow to the export trade, and mean the virtual extinction of certain districts like Durham and Northumberland. In certain quarters it is felt that the stabilisation of hours at seven and a-half is a concession to the coalowners, and that they should make a concession to the miners in return. I regard that as a very dangerous principle. I always hoped that this question would be decided upon its economic merits with a regard for the general welfare of the industry.
I am afraid that the general public has a false impression of the relations which exist between coalowners and coal miners. The public seem to think that both sides are working tooth and nail to do the other side down, but in my limited experience I have found that both sides are working hard for an amicable settlement for the mutual welfare of both sides. Unfortunately, there has been too much reference in the past to the arbitration of this House. The House was never intended to be a tribunal to settle industrial disputes. If hours are stabilised by law at seven and a-half, it does not follow that wages should be guaranteed as well. I admit that the wages of the men are very low indeed, far lower than we like to see, but it really does not help them when people say that wages on the Continent are much lower, because we in this country have always tried to maintain a certain standard of living for our own workers. If there is one class of workers in the coal industry in Durham whose wages cannot, I feel, be reduced, it is the men who are upon the subsistence wage. Those men arc paid 6s. 6½d. a day—a truly low wage, even when we have taken into account that they get a colliery house, or a rent allowance in lieu of it, and free coal. Some of those men are working only two or three days a week, and then the wage is deplorably low, and I maintain that we cannot we must not reduce the pay of those particular wage-earners.
On the other hand, I do maintain very definitely that we ought to have elasticity in the minimum scales and in the basic rate. Coalowners are always accused of trying to cut down piece-rates when the men are earning good money, but I do not think that is a fair criticism. No 878 colliery owner wishes to reduce piece-rates, unless it is found that, owing to the fact that the men are earning good wages, the output of a particular colliery is falling. At this moment, in the district of Durham, the minimum is 65 per cent. If hon. Members will look at the ascertainments for the counties they will find that the owners were never able to make up that percentage of 65 out of the additional proceeds. They have had to find it out of their own share of the proceeds, and, in the ultimate resort, out of their own resources. Instead of being able to find the 65 per cent., the owners have been able to pay only 33 per cent out of the additional proceeds, and have themselves had to make good the loss.
I maintain that it is a mistake to guarantee a minimum percentage. There must be elasticity in the minimum percentage, or else the owners and men in individual collieries will have to get together and decide upon a reduction of the basic rate, the alternative to that being that the collieries will close and the men will be out of employment. In my opinion, if we stabilise the rate of wages, that will be a hardship to the men instead of a benefit, because instead of having a slightly lower rate of wages, they will be drawing unemployment pay, and I never yet found the man who liked being out of work. A few years ago it was our misfortune to have to close down one of the collieries in which I am interested. We had been losing money for some time. We kept the pit open an additional year at the express wish of the Durham Miners' Federation, but we were compelled eventually to close it, though only for a short time. When the pit was re-opened, I took the opportunity of going down the shaft as often as I could to see as many of the hewers at the face as possible. Those who have been connected with the coal trade know that if miners have been idle for some time their hands get soft, and that the first few days of hewing when work is restarted is not an occupation to which they look forward with any pleasure. I found them with the shafts of their picks wrapped round with cotton waste and other rags in an endeavour to save their hands from blistering. I asked them all whether they were glad to be back at work again, and every man made the reply: "We are; this is a great deal better than the dole."
879 I feel that that represents the mentality of every miner, and that is why I am afraid that the definite fixing of wages by law would be dangerous. I have one other reason which makes me rather anxious about that system. If wages are guaranteed for one year then, as in the ease of a right of way, there is a danger of the system becoming permanent; and what is there to prevent the system extending to other industries? Men in other trades faced with a reduction of wages may come to the Government and say, "You have guaranteed the miners' wages; what are you going to do for us?" We might find this becoming a main issue at our general elections and democracy would become an auction mart.
As to a national agreement, I am afraid that I stand very definitely opposed to any such system. No two districts in the coal industry are alike, and no two pits are alike, and how can we expect to bring about an improvement in the condition of the industry by a national agreement? One district which meets the home demand for coal has one system, and an exporting district has an entirely different system. Under a national agreement we should go back to the disasters which the country has experienced over a number of years. If there is a dispute in the county of Durham, it can best be settled by the people who live in the area rather than by a national board meeting in London. There will not be the delay which arises from explaining the points at issue to the board, because the men on the spot know their business far better than imported representatives from other areas.
I, myself, am quite prepared to see established a national consultative board, consisting of owners and men and representatives of the public, but I do not wish to see a board of that nature given the power to deal with hours or wages, which should be left for settlement by district boards. If we give overriding powers to a central board, the district boards will not do their work in a satisfactory manner. The central board will really be looked upon as an ultimate tribunal to settle all those questions, and the district boards will not make any genuine effort to get the work done. A national board should deal with other and more important subjects. It should look 880 after the well-being and safety of the men in the pits and with the very important subject of research in mining, and I would like to see it working out a scheme by which we could secure cooperative effort in the sale of export coal.
As a result of the Debate to-day I hope that we may get better feeling between the coalowners and the miners. I think there is a good chance of it. Both owners and miners have to remember one thing — that they are responsible for the source of the power in this country. Coal is the source of power. It is the source which has made this nation great, and will continue to keep it so. When owners and men enter on a local dispute, there is a great danger of that prime issue being overlooked in the agitation over their local differences, though I feel that in this respect the lessons we have learned in the past will be of great value to us in the future. At the risk of offending hon. Members opposite, I must give it as my opinion that in the disaster of 1926 the miners were very badly led. At the same time I admit that the owners took a very narrow view. However, I do not feel that the owners and men were alone to blame, because I think the Government of the day made a mistake, and also that certain members of the bench of bishops were not altogether successful in their incursions into the industry.
One thing stands out to my mind: though the miners were badly led in 1926, they are not badly led now. I heard an hon. Member, speaking not long ago, say he thought it was a disaster when Mr. Edwards was defeated by the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson), but I do not agree with that view. I believe that Mr. Edwards, in his negotiations to secure a lasting peace in the industry, will find that he will be more successful as a private individual than he would have been as a Member of this House. I sincerely hope that the negotiations may have a successful issue, because, whether we like it or not, we must be prepared to see the coal industry on a smaller scale than it has been. It may be that science will come to our aid and teach us how to dispose of the potential output of the mines, or the out-put to which we have been accustomed in past years, but we cannot count on maintaining that output at the present moment. In the past few years science 881 has been teaching us how to economise in the use of coal. For example, considerably less coal is required now in the production of a ton of steel than was the case 10 years ago. Now we want science to come round and help us in the other direction. We want science to teach us some new form of low-temperature carbonisation or of hydrogenation, or how there may be an increased use of pulverised fuel. However, we cannot count on such processes coming into operation right away, and therefore we must be prepared to see a diminution of output and the employment of fewer miners.
The principal object before all of us at the present moment must surely be to arrive at some solution for the future of those miners who may never again be employed in the pits. Anyone can talk about redundant pits and about concentrating production on the most efficient units, but the really pressing problem that remains is the future of the surplus miners. Closing a colliery is not like closing an ordinary industrial plant. A colliery village has, to a very large extent, a separate life of its own. If we close down a colliery employing some 2,000 men, we are not merely condemning 2,000 men, with their wives and families, to privation; we are cutting off the means of livelihood of those tradesmen who have settled there to supply the wants of the miners and their families, and bringing about the virtual extinction of churches, clubs, infirmaries, and institutes. In other words, we are wiping out a complete social unit. That is the problem before us. As I said before, I feel that this House was never intended to be a tribunal to settle industrial disputes. That can be done far better by the people engaged in the industry. We have a far more important function to fulfil, and that is to work out a future for the surplus miners. Therefore, our Debates on the coal industry should take that form, and if we can come to some stable solution, then, I think, our National Government will have deserved well of the vast majority of the electors who returned it to power.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
I know that I shall be expressing the view of every hon. Mem- 882 ber in congratulating the last speaker on his maiden speech, to which we all listened with great pleasure. I have risen to support the Amendment on grounds which have already been covered by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and for a few other reasons. In the first place, I am opposed to the Bill, because I regard it as class legislation in the sense that it makes provision for a continuance of the present hours, but has no similar guarantee as regards wages. There is compulsion on the miners to continue working the seven and a-half hour day, but no compulsion on the owners to continue payment of the present wages. In January, 1913, there was a conference of employers and workers in the coal-producing countries in Europe, but it was found impracticable at that conference to make much progress, though the ground was considerably cleared for discussion. The question was again considered in June in the same year at Geneva, and a draft Convention was drawn up. The question of hours of work in coal mines was put on the Agenda at the next Conference in May, 1931, and for these reasons I look forward to the statement which has been promised by the Secretary for Mines because, as far as we can gather from that statement in the report, we have as much confidence in an immediate consideration of the hours of miners as we have in the committee to be appointed by the Prime Minister.
We have been told that for a period of 12 months wages have to be guaranteed. We are anxious as to what wages are to be paid at the end of 12 months. The owners can, as they have done in the past, destroy our local agreements notwithstanding a national agreement to such an extent as to reduce employment considerably in the coal industry. When reference is made in this House to the wages paid in the coal industry, there is an idea abroad that it is a living wage, whereas in every district in Great Britain the amount of money in the industry is not sufficient to pay a living wage or an economic wage, and the difference has to be made up by attacking the subsistence allowance, which proves that employers realise that, unless a workman has certain amounts to maintain himself, it is impossible for any work to be performed. We have no 883 evidence that at the end of another 12 months an attempt will not be made by the coalowners to make further inroads into the wages of our people. I shall endeavour to demonstrate that our fears in that direction are not ill-founded and that our fears for the people we represent are not without justification, more especially as we are constantly reminded that you cannot take more out of an industry than has been put into it.
What is the reason why there is not sufficient money in the industry to guarantee a living wage to the people employed in the production of coal? Let me deal with this question. Reference has already been made to the sums received by miners for 12 months' work. May I be allowed to give some figures? The wages paid in the mining industry per person employed in 1920 amounted to £223 for 12 months' work, and in 1930 that amount had been reduced to £114—a reduction during that period of over £109, or 49 per cent. The output of coal during the same period had increased from 187 tons per person employed in 1920 to 262 tons per person employed in 1930, an increase of 75 tons or 40 per cent. The increase in output was 40 per cent., and this was accompanied by a reduction in wages of a little over 49 per cent., an achievement in accordance with the sound business principle that the more you get in coal the less you get in wages. An increase in the production of coal is appreciated by the coalowners in the shape of a reduction in wages. The harder a miner works, the less time he has to spend the wages that he earns. The miners have constantly been told that it is mainly by increasing their output that better wages can be obtained, more prosperity secured for the industry generally, and cheaper coal, but while the product is not properly marketed and sold at an economic price, wages will not be improved.
Whatever hon. Members may think about the miner, he makes comparisons, as we all do, and these comparisons show that in 1929 there were 957,000 mine workers at work in the mines, and after working 12 months their total wages' bill amounted to £113,000,000. It has been shown that during the same year 103,000 persons in this country had an income of no less than £570,000,000. The compari- 884 son shows that nine times the number of mine workers received actually £457,000,000 less in wages; in other words, 957,000 mine workers received £457,000,000 less income than 103,000 persons known as Surtax payers in this country. I am of the opinion that persons other than those living in the mining areas are compelled, day after day, to witness evidence of the poverty that exists in their own districts, but it is difficult to make them understand what is actually happening in the mining areas.
Let me give another glaring instance, and it is one which is largely responsible for the attitude which the miner adopts in making these comparisons. During the year 1927 we had employed in South Wales 178,114 mine workers and, after working 12 months, their total wages amounted to £21,000,000. Within three months of those workers receiving £21,000,000, after working 12 months, three persons died in this country and left wealth expressed in money of more than £35,000,000, being £14,000,000 more than the total wages bill of 178,114 South Wales miners for 12 months. Whatever hon. Members may think of those figures, those are the salient facts which appeal not only to the miners of South Wales, but to the miners of Great Britain.
The mining industry has not paid a living wage to those employed in the production of coal, largely because the coal is sold at a price that will not guarantee a living wage to the people employed. I will take two industries as an illustration. I will take the profits of what is known as statutory gas undertakings and electrical undertakings, and will deal with the gas companies first. In 12 years, from 1919 to 1930, their receipts showed an excess over expenditure of no less than £57,000,000. The local authorities during the same period, that is 1919 to 1920, had an excess of receipts over expenditure of £42,000,000. With reference to electricity undertakings of local authorities I find that during the period of 10 years, 1922 to 1931, the total gross surplus was £125,000,000. During the same period the total gross surplus of the companies was £84,000,000. I have been unable to obtain the price of coal for gas production, but I imagine that there is only a slight variation in the price of coal supplied to these undertakings and the price of coal supplied for the production of electricity. In 1922, those under- 885 takings had to pay 35s. per ton for their coal, whereas in 1931 they were supplied with coal at 15s. 11d. per ton, a reduction during that period of 19s. 1d. per ton. It is easily explained in view of these figures, why the gas companies made profits in 1919 amounting to £4,000,000, and in 1930 to over £7,000,000. The local authorities in 1919 made only a profit of £2,500,000, and in 1931 they were able to make a profit of over £4,000,000.
With reference to the generation of electricity, the companies in 1921 made a profit only of £4,000,000, while in 1930 they made a profit of over £12,000,000. The local authorities in 1921 made a profit only of £8,000,000, but in 1930 they made a less a profit than £16,000,000. The explanation is to be found in the fact that they were being supplied with coal at 15s. 11d. per ton instead of 35s. We must bear in mind the fact that these two industries are not insignificant industries. They consume coal annually to the amount of approximately 20,000,000 tons, and I find that, over the period of eight years with which I have been dealing these two industries alone consumed rather more than 200,000,000 tons of coal; but the coal-owners, who cannot afford to pay a living wage to the people whom they employ to produce coal, are still selling coal to these undertakings at 15s. 11d. per ton, thereby enabling the owners of these undertakings to increase their gross surplus from £4,000,000 a year to no less than £16,000,000, while in South Wales alone, from February, 1927, to October, 1930, there was a declared trading deficiency of exactly £16,000,000. This is all done in the name of efficient business management. Over the whole of Great Britain, including South Wales, while the trading profit on coal in 1920 was 3s. per ton, in 1930 it had been reduced to 3d. per ton. That business inefficiency is reflected in the low wages of the men who produce the coal. The owners may be entitled to lose the shareholders' money, but they are not entitled to recover the loss from the wages of the workmen, nor have this Government a mandate to legalise such exploitation and appropriation of miners' wages.
In this connection it is necessary to bear in mind that, while some persons put something into the industry and take nothing out, there are others who put nothing in and are permitted to take 886 something out. I am referring to the royalty owners. The average royalty per ton upon the coal produced in this country varies from 6d. to 8d., but there is a small colliery in my Division the proprietor of which is actually paying no less than 1s. 6d. per ton. From 1920 to 1930, these individuals took from the industry over £62,000,000.
The owners have always acted, in the selling of coal, as if a reduction in the price of coal creates a demand for the coal sold. Will it? Here is an instance. I agree that one should be careful in using figures, because one may be accused, and in some instances correctly, of using them to suit one's particular point of view; but I have taken out the quantity of saleable coal raised in 1925, and find that it was 243,146,880 tons, while the total net selling value at the mines was £198,964,277. In 1930 the total quantity of saleable coal raised was 243,862,100 tons, while the net selling value was £165,734,428. These two sets of figures show that, while 715,220 tons more coal was sold in 1930 than in 1925, over £33,000,000 less was received for it. If there were no other figures than these, they would prove that the contention of the owners is wrong, and that you cannot automatically create a demand for coal by reducing the price. I have also the South Wales monthly export averages and the free on board prices. I find that in 1923 the monthly average of coal exported from South Wales was 2,509,995 tons, and the free on board price was 25s. 7d. per ton. In 1931 the monthly average was 1,499,836 tons, but the free on board price had been reduced to 18s. 4|d. per ton. These figures, therefore, show that practically 1,000,000 tons less coal was sold, although the price per ton had. been reduced by 7s. 2¼d.
I should like now to deal with a question to which reference has already been made, namely, the co-operative selling of coal. On 19th November, 1929, Professor J. H. Jones, of the University of Leeds, read a paper before the Royal Statistical Society, entitled, "The Present Position of the British Coal Trade," and, after the paper, Sir Richard Redmayne made these observations:I think you will agree with me that second to that"—he was referring to marketing combinations— 887"in importance is economy in distribution. I do not for a moment state that the merchants are making too much money, but the coal is passing through far too many hands before it reaches the consumer. It seems wrong that a high-class coal sold at a profit at pit-head in, say, Sheffield at 18s. a ton should cost, into the cellar in London, something in the neighbourhood of 54s. a ton. It is not the railway carriage, which is about 8s. 6d. a ton, but it is the number of hands through which it passes that puts up the price. The great problem facing this country and America is the question of distribution.That brings me to another point. In 1925, as the House will remember, a Commission was set up to deal with the coal industry under the chairmanship of the present Home Secretary, and in one of the Commission's recommendations this statement is to be found:The industry as a whole has so far failed to realise the benefits to be obtained by a readiness to co-operate. Large financial advantages might be gained by the formation, in particular, of co-operative selling agencies. They are specially needed in the export trade.As a result, the Government of that period submitted the matter to a Departmental Committee, of which several prominent coalowners were members. If I am not mistaken, a member of that Committee is a Member of this House at the present moment. The Committee was appointed on 22nd July, 1926, and its terms of reference were:To inquire into and report upon the desirability and practicability of developing co-operative selling in the coal mining industry, and to make recommendations.The report of that Committee has been published, and three of its recommendations read as follow:The present lack of consolidation in the industry is a serious impediment, and the full development and benefits of organised marketing cannot be realised unless the industry can be consolidated, by amalgamations, into a much smaller number of units.Organised marketing is only immediately practicable in those localities and districts where there is a fairly general desire among the coalowners to develop it.The voluntary development of local arrangements—more particularly selling pools—among neighbouring colliery owners is advocated.The report also points out:No national marketing organisation could in itself control the price of coal in international markets, but it would nevertheless be of advantage in co-ordinating sales in such markets. It is claimed, from 888 general knowledge of the trade, that export prices are depressed not only by foreign competition, but also by competition of different British exporting areas against each other in some of the export markets and by competition among colliery companies in the same exporting area and among the exporters. The unnecessary competition could be eliminated by a marketing organisation. In so far as it may result in providing foreign competitors of our manufacturing industries with cheaper coal, it is harmful not only to the coal mining industry but to the industries of the country generally.It is amazing to find that a leading Welsh coalowner was one of the three signatories of a Minority Report, the three having become known as the Three Virtuous Men. The "Times" described them in this language:It is almost pathetic that the representatives of the colliery owners, after all the experience of the last few years, should still maintain that in their own industry at least all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.The "Daily News" made this comment upon the action of these three coalowners in signing a Minority Report:With characteristic insolence, the minority group professes that its chief objection to a co-operative arrangement is that it would 'keep up prices to the detriment of the consumer.' The majority replies appropriately to this argument, but the plain man's retort will be that no body of men has ever shown less concern for the consumer than the coalowners have shown in recent months, and are still showing. Specious talk at this time of day about the interests of the consumer will deceive no one. The spectacle of folly, selfishness and stupidity presented at the present time by the directors of the British coal industry is the derision of the whole world. They remember nothing, they learn nothing, they will do nothing. We are convinced that the time is not far off when the nation will have its reckoning with them.That was in 1926, and there is still no evidence that the coalowners of this country are prepared to market their coal scientifically. They are not prepared to set up voluntary arrangements, and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, they will never be compelled by this Government to set up these co-operative selling agencies. Certainly they will be under no obligation to do so while they are permitted to redress their grievances and make good their losses by further reducing the wages of the men employed in the production of coal. The owners have opposed, and will continue to oppose, all proposals for improving the conditions of the industry by amalgamations, market- 889 ing and the co-operative selling of coal, but they always seek relief, and they are now supported by the National Government in doing so, by lengthening the working day and decreasing the wages of the miner. Even the Liberals hold a similar opinion. They say that, although there are striking exceptions, the coal-owners as a class are assuming a proverbial type of Conservative obstinacy in the face of changing facts.
In spite of those facts, the House will oppose our Amendment. We shall be told that reorganisation of the mining industry and national control would prove to be a failure. I would ask, could the failure be greater than it is now? The obligation to adduce proof that it would be a failure is with our opponents. We on these benches are convinced, for what it is worth, that the industry, before a laving wage is paid to the people employed in it, must be subjected to complete unification under a system of national ownership. At present, within the mining industry, there are no fewer than 4,000 royalty owners, 1,400 separate colliery undertakings, and 25,000 coal distributors. In those conditions the industry will never be in a position to pay our people a decent wage. My colleagues and I are convinced that the industry will have to take the medicine prescribed by the Sankey Commission, and that is complete unification under a system of national control.
§ Mr. SLATER
It is very fortunate for a Member to be able to make his maiden speech about an industry with which he has been connected all his business life. I am going to divide my remarks under three distinct headings. I am going to refer, first, to the general conditions of the industry to-day; secondly, to the Coal Mines Act, 1930, and the workings thereof; and, thirdly, to the reorganisation of the coal trade to meet present and possibly future problems in the industry. I quite agree with the last speaker that conditions to-day are really serious. Since 1913, 1,046 mines have closed down and 237,000 men have lost their employment. That is only due to a small extent to the increased efficiency of output, though a great deal has been made of that to-day. The Minister of Mines on 3rd May, gave the figures of the difference in output between 1913 and the present day at 20.32 cwts. in 1913, when there was an eight- 890 hour day, and 21.61 cwts. to-day. He also mentioned the following important changes that had taken place since 1913. The annual output had fallen from 287,000,000 tons to 219,000,000 tons. In 1913, the output was practically at what is now suggested as the maximum output of the industry, that is 287,000,000 to 300,000,000 tons. He went on to tell us how oil, gas and electricity had affected the demand for coal. Oil has displaced coal to the extent of 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 tons per annum, and gas and electricity undertakings have practically robbed the coal industry of 12,500,000 tons. The marine bunkers accounted for a further 6,500,000 tons. The iron and steel trades have taken 17,500,000 tons less than in 1913, and our exports are down by 36,600,000 tons. These figures show how serious is the present state of affairs. Is the coal trade, therefore, justified in recommending the continuation of the Coal Mines Act? In my opinion, it is not. We have learned very little indeed from our experience since 1913 if we come to that decision. Coal has not longer a monopoly of providing power, light and heat. The figures show clearly that oil, gas and electricity are making such inroads into the industry that they cannot possibly be ignored. The chief chemist of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company says the coal industry has entirely failed to meet modern requirements. The coal trade must not look to an expansion of trade, but to the retention of what it has.
I will now pass to the negotiations that took place before the Act of 1930 was passed. There was a definite opinion in the House at that time, shared not entirely by the Socialist Government but by Members of the other parties, that the royalty question would really have to be dealt with. I should hate to have the word "nationalism" applied to any industry but, if royalties are to be exploited so that the incidence of their exploitation is parasitical on the coal trade—and I am sure that at present it is—I should not hesitate to say that I would be in favour of the nationalisation of royalties. That is a big statement for a coalowner, but there is no doubt that all over the country small royalty owners are letting their royalties to small people who begin to burrow in the ground, and destroy local price fixation. There is a 891 national price and there is always a local price, which is higher than the national price. These people are disturbing these local price agreements which are vital to the continuation of the industry on an economic basis. I would appeal even to the royalty-owners that it is in their eventual interest that they should combine with the coalowners.
What were the problems facing the country when the Act was passed? We had over-production. It was said that it would be impossible, unless there was restriction of output, to bring about an economic equilibrium within the industry. There is not a single case the world over where deliberate contraction of output and artificial price maintenance have succeeded, yet the Socialist Government were over-persuaded by powerful interests which did not represent the voice of the country as a whole. There is no coalowner in the country who will say that the deliberate restriction of the output of any colliery to, say, 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. of its capacity does not add 1s. or 2s. a ton to the cost of getting. That being an incontrovertible fact, are the Government prescribing the right medicine to put the industry in order? The increased getting-price of coal is not enabling the trade to fight its common enemies, oil, gas and electricity, except with its hands tied behind its back. Those are obvious truths which cannot be gainsaid.
The second thing they pinned their faith to was a price maintenance scheme. Minimum prices were to be established throughout the country. District by district the owners were to fix minimum prices based on, say, the realised prices of 1929. The intention of the Government was to prevent the fixation of the price of coal at such a low level that it would not give an economic return on the capital invested in the industry or a proper reward for service in the industry. What happened when it was put in force? District after district fought to bring down its minimum price to the lowest possible point in order to make certain that one district would not lose its trade to another. There is no doubt that even the legally enforced national prices are not being observed, and the President of the Board of Trade says they are seeking every devious way in which to avoid the 892 obligations of that legal enactment. They are still struggling to get uniformity in the price agreements. The law states that the price must be so much at the pit head. The injustice of that, not only to the colliery owners but to the coal consumers, is very marked. The only fair thing, if you are to have fair play for everyone, is that the price of coal should be fixed at the point where it is consumed. I will not make the Government's task any more difficult than it is. I will not say there are not one or two points of great benefit which have arisen out of the Act. The one thing that is important is that, as far as sharing the trade of the country is concerned, we have arrived at the point of fixing a quota as between district and district.
How would I deal with this industry? A good deal has been said this afternoon about Part IV of the Act of 1930. If I had to take care of this industry I would appoint a Coal Mines Consolidation Board which could take the place of the National Industrial Board. It would have the power through Parliament to levy upon the whole of the production of this country a maximum of 3d. per ton. Threepence per ton has an enormous power. Sir Ernest Gowers went round the country attempting amalgamations under Part IV of the Act, and there have been many caustic comments made in this House upon the cost of the Reorganisation Committee, and I think, to a large extent, they are true. But this has to be said for Sir Ernest Gowers: he had not the power with his committee to do anything at all. He never had powers vested in him, and, above all, he never had the lubricating oil and the wherewithal to bring about the amalgamations. Under my scheme, £50,000,000 could be issued by way of colliery bonds bearing interest at 4 per cent. They could be amortised and serviced for 30 years, and a share of that £50,000,000, if the output was 230,000,000 tons per annum, could be allocated to each particular district producing coal in this country in exactly their proportion of the national output to-day. There would be a co-ordinating authority which would overlook the industry and hand on money to each district, and would compensate at a fair value collieries which go out of action. If it is necessary that we should have amalgama- 893 tions, there should be concentration of production in the most efficient units. That is vital, if the industry is to survive. If we do not do that, the industry will die. There will be nothing left for the mineowners in a very few years, and perhaps at the end of five years the Government, out of the taxpayers' money, will have to provide for the economic shortage in carrying on the industry.
There are other duties which a Coal Mines Consolidation Board could take. Speakers on the Opposition Benches have made a point that the export trade of this country needs to be under a central authority. Whatever the Government may say, I claim, as a practical man engaged in exporting, and with a knowledge of what we are up against to-day, that that is true. Until we have the export coal trade of this country centrally controlled, and the exporters, or whoever carry out the details of our export trade, are overlooked to see that they are not destroying one another and finally destroying the miners' welfare, we shall make no real progress vis-a-vis the world supply of coal. The board will act as that authority. I am making this suggestion to the Minister of Mines, because I want to help him all I can to bring the coal trade into a state of prosperity, so that it may reward the labour in it at the highest possible rate and give a reasonable return to the capital in the industry and interest the public in investing money in the industry.
A great deal of the trouble between district and district would be stopped by a central authority. It would stop such things happening as occurred the other day when Scotch collieries sent down from Ayr or Troon shipments of coal to Liverpool to destroy the trade of the Lancashire collieries. There was no desire on the part of the Scottish masters to do other than sell their coal in the ordinary way. The dumping of coal and the destruction of the maintenance of proper prices in the districts must be stopped. The position must be based on something like the American and Canadian anti-dumping laws. If I export to America or to Canada, I have to give a guarantee that the price I charge is equivalent to what I am obtaining at home. If in a particular district you get 12s. for Scottish Singles, say in Glasgow, it should not be possible to send them 894 to Lancashire at a lower price. I am sure that if there was a proper compensation scheme to back up and to lubricate the whole of the necessary machinery, successful amalgamations could be adopted under the heading I have suggested. I claim no special merit for the proposal. It has actually been tried under the Balfour Licensing Act. The shipbuilders are trying it. It is a tested and proved scheme which would bring out the whole of the benefits contained in the industry both for capital and for labour. Therefore, I ask the House to give careful consideration to leaving this particular Act in its present position.
There is no doubt that it is the opinion of the coal trade in a great many of the export districts in England that unless something is done quickly, the export districts will well nigh go out of existence. It is very necessary that we should find some means of adjusting the great crisis in the industry by a compensation scheme which will not only take care of the coal owner but of the shifted man power displaced by a colliery going out of existence under the scheme. It would be possible to subscribe a portion of the money to transfer labour from one place to another, and to send miners to model homes when perhaps they had not enjoyed model homes previously. It would be possible to concentrate upon output at efficient collieries, which would mean that the wages of the men employed at those collieries would be higher. That is the big point. In fact, it is the main point. Hon. Members on the Opposition benches, employers of labour, and, indeed, every hon. Member in this House would agree with me that the difference between the old type of mine and the new and efficient mine would mean anything from 3s. to 4s. a day in increased reward for the services of the men en-engaged therein. These are facts.
It is not a question to-day of having a monopoly. We are challenged on every hand by our foreign competitors. There are suggestions that we should make a levy upon the coal trade in order to strengthen our financial resources against Poland and Germany. If we had a central authority speaking for the export districts of this country, or for the whole of the nation, we could negotiate with the Polish and the German people. This has never been possible before because 895 we were badly organised compared with the Wesphalian Syndicate and the Polish people. We have always been going about our business determined to cut our throats as far as exporters are concerned regardless of where the consequences might end. [HON. MEMBERS: "There are other things‡"] I am prepared to accept that. Other things include the coalowners' doubts. But I say, in deference to some of the statements from the Opposition benches to-day, that it has often been heard in this House that the miners have been badly led, and as a coalowner of 20 years standing, I am prepared to say—and I say it with great respect for my colleagues in the coal trade—that the coalowners of this country have also been badly led. I am prepared to say that, and also that they are perhaps the most awkward, stubborn and impossible people to bring to new ideas one could find in this country.
I do not say that with disrespect or with the object of earning the approbation of hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House. Anyone who has bad dealings with the coalowners know, as the Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) said, that each particular colliery has its own point of view. You can never legislate nationally for the coal trade, because the traditions of the trade built up over many years make it difficult for coalowners to enter into agreements, and to share their trade and bring about certain amalgamations or co-ordinations, which would seem to the outsider obviously necessary, but at which they would look at askance.
Coalowners and public companies of the country send to the deliberations concerned with making the coal trade a better business from the coal owning point of view their managing directors and colliery managers—people whose first consideration is, not whether they are going to improve the industry, but "What is going to become of me?" That is how many of them look at it. I do not blame them. As it concerns their bread and butter, they want to know, if collieries are to go out of existence and if the industry is to be rationalised and brought to an efficient point, where they come in. I only make this point to show clearly to the House that the attitude of the coalowners is naturally understandable when you know who speak for them.
896 I have pointed out the merits of a co-ordinated policy. I think I should get the support of Members of the Opposition Benches, for the reason that it is as near nationalisation as is acceptable or advisable. My scheme would prevent for all time the ill-consideration of the ills and woes of the trade, and would provide for concentration on the part of the Coal Mines Board in order to bring the beat possible conditions out of the industry, not only for the miners engaged in it, but also for the capital invested. I, therefore, feel that if we are to face the future with a sense of confidence, the coalowners of the country and the coal miners must agree to such a scheme. If we are going to face it with Part I of this Act, with poor production, with low wages and high-priced coal to the consumers of this country, it is bound to fail, and a failure so often repeated in the past will be catastrophic on the next occasion we try it.
The House will agree with me in congratulating the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) on a very able maiden speech. He has raised some very important facts concerning an industry of which he evidently knows something. We have listened to more than one interesting speech from hon. Members who, I assume, are going to support the Bill. We have been told by hon. Members that they are hoping this will be the last time that the coal industry will be brought within the realms of politics so far as the extension of Part I of the Act is concerned, and that future years will not see the question of hours and wages in the industry again raised in this House. It is noteworthy that hon. Members who have referred to the industry coming within the realm of politics have during recent months appealed to Parliament to deal with the industries in which they were interested.
We have also heard some very interesting lectures on the coal mining industry. Some hon. Members have pointed out what the country owes to the industry. Nothing has pleased me more than to hear the hon. Member who has just spoken, who is interested from the point of view of a coalowner, making the confession that in the running of the industry, and in dealing with prices in a nonsensical and ridiculous way by underselling each other, the welfare of the British miner has been 897 sold without very muck consideration. That is one of the faults that we have found even with the operation of Part IV of the Act. We have never thought that Part IV gave sufficient authority to those operating it. They had not sufficient power in the fixation of prices that they ought to have had. If we had had a proper fixation of prices and the quota had been removed, one feels that the coal industry, with all the difficulties that it is passing through, would have had a better opportunity of giving a living wage to the man who has to give his service in the most arduous, difficult and dangerous occupation that there is in the country.
This Bill is introduced to extend the working day of the miner to seven and a-half hours for an unlimited period. We would remind the Minister of Mines and the President of the Board of Trade that when this Act of Parliament was first negotiated, miners' wages were at a certain level, and those wages were taken into account. Now, when we are legitimately entitled on 8th July this year to a seven-hour day, the Government introduce this Bill for a seven and a-half hour day. As one who has worked underground, I say that seven hours is sufficient. If I could have my way, every Conservative Member would be taken down a coal pit, his shirt would be taken off and he would be made to get his living at the coal face for three months. He would then have more sympathy in dealing with coal miners than he has now. This Bill suggests that instead of giving the miner that to which he is entitled, a seven-hour working day on 8th July, the Act shall be extended to seven and a-half hours a day for an unlimited time. We say, and we think the House ought to regard our request as reasonable, that if the Government have confidence in themselves and in their policy, if they have confidence in the Geneva, Ottawa and Lausanne Conferences, and they are going to extend the working day to seven and a-half hours for an unlimited period, we ought to have our wages guaranteed for an unlimited period. At the three forthcoming conferences the coal industry will be one of the subjects to be dealt with. Certainly, there will be plenty of room at the Imperial Conference to discuss coal, and if we are to be asked by the National Government to give preference to certain Colonies and certain parts of the Empire, I suggest that countries like Canada, 898 who are purchasing millions of tons of coal per year from the United States of America, ought to be pressed on the question of buying British coal. If the National Government have no confidence in their Imperial or International Conferences, then it is only fair that they should extend the working hour for no longer than 12 months, and alongside that we should have a guarantee of our wages for 12 months.
Hon. Members from this side have indicated the tremendous losses of wages which have been suffered by the miners since 1920. We were told by the President of the Board of Trade what has happened in the building industry, the shipping industry, the textile industry and the cotton industry, but we say very seriously, and beyond any question of doubt, that since 1920 no industrial worker in Great Britain has suffered as the British miner has suffered. We ask the Government—I am sorry to say that Members of the Government were sent here by many votes of miners—in fairness to the miners not to extend the working hours for an unlimited period while they are only giving us a guarantee of our wages for 12 months. We ask the Government to take their courage in both hands. We ask them to say: "We will continue the seven and a-half hour day and the existing wages for no longer than 12 months, and in the light of our success or failure at Geneva, Lausanne and Ottawa we will consider the general international situation and what can be done with the coal industry." Is it contemplated that we are only to be given a guarantee for 12 months for even the meagre wages that are being paid in the coalfield, and that the wages are going to be lessened? Is there any fear that the miners' wages are to be lower than they are?
If the National Government, which came in with such a flourish of trumpets, are going to suggest that the conditions now existing in the coalfields may be even worse, then the sooner they relinquish their position and allow someone else to deal with the matter, the better. Are they afraid of giving us the same guarantee that they have given to the coalowners? This is definite class legislation. I say to the Government, What right had you to interfere? We could have done without your interference, if this is the only thing that you can offer 899 us. The Miners' Federation were offered these terms long before you interfered in the negotiations, and then you tell us that you have had to strive to get the owners to agree to the wages which are being paid to pit men who, working in the most dangerous occupation, are getting less than 6s. a day for seven and a-half hours in the bowels of the earth. You suggest that that is the best thing that can be done. We should have been better without your interference, if this is the only thing that you can do.
The mining industry has been a cockpit of disputation and the Cinderella of industries in the British Isles for nearly 50 years. Our lifetime has been spent in struggling and fighting to maintain a reasonable, fair living, but in many instances that cannot be got even now. We are prepared to resist this Bill and, if needs be, to fight once more on the industrial field rather than stand the definite class legislation that is included in this proposed Act of Parliament. I appeal to hon. Members behind the Cabinet, who must in many instances know the dire distress of the miners of Great Britain, in fairness to give proper treatment to the miners, and to say that if the coalowners are to have a guarantee for an extended working day that we should be given a guarantee that our wages will be maintained during that time. If there is any confidence in the policy that the National Government are pursuing, and if there is any confidence in the Lausanne, Ottawa and Geneva Conferences—the Government tell us that these Conferences will remove many of our grievances, industrial and economic— we ask the Government either to withdraw this Bill or to give us the same guarantee that they have given to the coalowners.
Many of us on this side have been brought up in the coal industry. The hon. Member for Eastbourne represents the owners' side. He has made money out of the industry. We represent that side of the industry in which we were driven down into the pits at the age of 12 or 13 and we know how dangerous and uncomfortable the industry is. We ask for fair play. If there is to be an extension of wages only for 12 months, there ought to be an extension of hours for only 12 months, and then in face of what happens at the International Con- 900 ferences the whole situation in the mining industry should be reviewed in 1933.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir ADRIAN BAILLIE
There has been considerable criticism of the Bill now under discussion, and one or two protests have been made from both sides of the House. I should like at the outset to make one protest. This Bill, while a very short Bill, and one which, read out of its context, is completely unintelligible, seeks to legislate on a very important subject and for a very important industry, and I feel that more time might have been given to private Members and to the parties interested in this great industry to study its text and look into its provisions. Instead of that, the text of this Bill was published only on Friday morning. A protest is especially righteous in this case as this is a Bill which cannot possibly be understood without referring back to the Acts of 1887 and 1908, to four subsequent Acts, and to international conventions.
Legislation by reference is usually considered bad, but it is especially bad in this case, because it is unintelligible. It is also bad because some of the sections in the previous Acts to which reference is made, the sections dealing with the number of hours a miner may work underground, show a certain amount of dubiety and contradiction. In Section 1 of the Act of 1908 it is laid down that, subject to the provisions of that Act, a workman shall not be below ground for the purpose of his work for more than seven hours during any consecutive 24 hours, but Section 3 of the same Act allows exceptions to Section 1 to the extent that a miner might be employed one extra hour over the seven for 60 days a year. As to the subsequent Acts of 1926 and of 1919, they each refer back to the substantive Act of 1908 and make further exceptions. In the first case while the hours of work remain legally seven hours per day, an exception is made not for 60 days but for every day in the year. Finally, in the 1930 Act the extra hour is reduced to half an hour per day for every day in the year. In one paragraph something is conceded to the miners, in the next paragraph it is taken away from them. Whereas in one Section it is definitely stated that the miner is not allowed to work underground more than seven hours, in another it is stated that it is per- 901 missible for him to work an extra hour or half an hour and "permissible" means that he is forced to work the extra time. I give those instances to show the present chaotic state of legislation governing the coal mining industry.
Why should the security of every wage contract in the mining industry be in constant jeopardy, as it is by this changing legislation in regard to hours of work? Why in this particular Bill should the Government wish to tie up the hours of work in our mines with an international Convention, which at best only contemplates a longer working day than the six hour day which the Coal Mines Act, 1919, provides can be brought into operation by a simple Resolution of both Houses of Parliament? Does anyone really believe that within a reasonable period the International Convention is going to succeed in stabilising internationally hours and wages and conditions of work? There is considerable dubiety in the Convention itself. One of its provisions is that there should be a seven and three-quarter hour day from bank to bank, with 60 hours overtime a year, but in the following provision it is laid down that in any mine overtime may be worked for half an hour a day in special circumstances and no limit of days is set in this case. Again, it refers to special exceptional conditions in lignite mines. This Convention, which the Government are being so strongly urged to ratify, seems to be full of as many anomalies and absurdities as the present regulations governing the coal mining industry in Great Britain. Yet this Bill provides that hours of work in the mines must be tied to an international Convention.
I have found it interesting to reflect upon the reason why working hours in the British coal mine industry have been determined and varied by no less than five Acts of Parliament in 24 years. It is generally admitted that it is an industry in which both on the side of the owners and on the side of the miners, there are the best industrial organisations existing to-day. I have often felt that, with these strong organisations on each side, they would have been able to reach a far more satisfactory arrangement had they been left to fight their battles out between themselves. How much has the miner stood to gain out of all this changing of hours? I believe 902 that the miner to-day is no whit better off, except possibly in the matter of safety underground, than he was 50 years ago, despite all the legislation this House has passed on his behalf. In the election of 1929 I unsuccessfully contested the constituency which I now represent, and at that election my opponent, who was subsequently the Secretary for Mines in the Labour Government, promised the electors and the miners in his constituency that, if his party and he himself were returned, the hours of work would be immediately reduced from eight to seven, without any change at all in the rate of wages. I was conscientiously unable to promise the electors and miners any such thing. It did not do me any good. I told them that they could have their hours reduced from eight to seven, but that the industry was not in a position to do so without a pro rata reduction in wages. I believe that every miner who is honest with himself would prefer an eight-hour day with wages at their former level and possibilities of an increase in wages, rather than the seven-hour day or the seven and a-half hour day, which many of them have frankly admitted to me has meant little in their lives.
How have the miners fared under the legislation introduced by the Labour Government? The hours were reduced from eight to seven and a-half. In Scotland the miners, not being masters of their own house, were forced to abandon the spread over, and the collieries were forced to adopt the seven and a-half hour day. As a result, wages were reduced in August, 1931, from 107 per cent. on the 1888 basis to 100 per cent. on the 1888 basis. We always have to go back to the 1887 or 1888 basis in these matters. In 1888 the wage was considered to be 4s. a shift. In 1931 it was reduced from 8s. 4.8d. to 8s. a shift. The result of this legislation was that the miner was paid somewhat more than 4d. a shift less for his work than he was previously receiving before this House of Commons intervened on his behalf. Nothing but dislocation has arisen from this perpetual changing of the law and from the continual doubt which exists as to what Parliament is going to do next.
In this matter it is of great importance to have some feeling of permanence, and yet the only feeling of permanence which 903 can be got out of this Bill is that the quota is to be continued for five years. I do not know what hon. Members representing English constituencies may feel about the quota, but I am on fairly sound ground in saying that in Scotland we do not consider the quota to have been a success. I shall give one example from my own constituency, where, in the quarter ending 30th June this year, a colliery had to purchase 18,000 tons of coal from other collieries which were not in production. For that 18,000 tons they had to pay 7½d. a ton, and that is not as high as is paid in some places. In the Report of the Board of Trade we read that in some parts of Scotland 1s. 6d. a ton has to be paid for a transfer of that sort. That is a very obvious interference in the sound working of this particular colliery in Scotland. Had the colliery not purchased this 18,000 tons of coal, it would have had to close the pit entirely for a period of two full working weeks. Anyone can realise that for a great and growing colliery such a policy would have been suicidal.
As far as we in Scotland are concerned the quota cannot be held to be an unqualified success. On the contrary; it is perfectly certain that it merely subsidises the inefficient and penalises the efficient colliery. This quota scheme has been in operation for only nine months, it is still in a period of gestation, and I suggest to the Government and the Secretary for Mines that it is unwise to legislate for the continuance of a quota scheme, about which we know very little, for five years. A limitation of that period would be in the interests of all concerned. Finally, I would urge on the Government that they should set about the preparation of a comprehensive measure codifying all the laws that have been passed relating to the mining industry. I have given examples showing how many Acts have been passed and how legislation by reference creates anomalies and absurdities. Let me give one more illustration. In the Mining Industry Act, 1926, there is a Section which prohibits an unemployed shale miner seeking employment in the coal mines, but the same Act left it open to the coal miner to seek employment in shale mining. That has given rise to a sense of grievance. It is unjust and unfair and may indeed prove very un- 904 economical to ratepayers in particular areas. I give that as an example of the chaotic state of the legislation covering the mining industry. I do not propose to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill, on the contrary, but I hope I shall have an opportunity of putting down and discussing one or two Amendments to the Bill on Committee stage.
§ Mr. TINKER
I agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Sir A. Baillie) as to the hurried way in which this Measure has been brought forward. We ought to have a great deal more time to examine it both on Committee stage and on Report. A Bill which legislates by reference is very difficult indeed to follow because we have to examine so many previous Acts of Parliament, and it would have been better if a little more time had been given to its consideration especially as the House of Commons has some 300 new Members who have not taken part in our previous Debates and who, therefore, may be somewhat at a loss in the technical points at issue. I cannot, however, agree with him that the House of Commons should not interfere on the question of reducing hours. It has been said that the miners will agree to work eight hours per day if their wages were guaranteed. That was the argument used in 1926 by the Lord President of the Council, who was then Prime Minister. He said that he did not like the idea of asking the miners to work longer hours but that he was faced with that necessity or a cutting down of wages. But what happened when the coalowners were given power to extend the hours to eight? Wages did not remain as they were. The coalowners set out to undersell each other and brought down wages to the lowest possible point. A lengthening of the hours of work did not save the wages of the miners, and when hon. Members opposite argue in this way I would ask them to realise what it actually means. As a matter of fact seven and-half hours really mean eight and a-quarter hours for workmen in the mines. The Samuel Commission said that the average winding time was about 39 minutes, we thought it was longer, but in any case hon. Members must remember that it means that the miners hours are eight and a-quarter per day. You must put wages against that to see the position of the miner.
905 The President of the Board of Trade in his statement to-day said that he regretted that he had to come to the House of Commons on a matter like this; that he had tried to get an understanding between the two parties and would have been much better satisfied if an understanding had been reached. I agree with him, and every mining official would have welcomed it if he had been able to get from the coalowners what we thought we were entitled to get. We were ready to agree to a seven and a-half hour day, realising the economic position of the industry, if we were guaranteed wages for the same length of time. If such an agreement had been reached there would have been no need for this legislation, only for legislation to confirm our agreement. We could not get that agreement. Under this Bill we are to get a seven and a-half hour day until the coming into operation of an Act to enable effect to be given to the draft international convention limiting the hours of work underground in coal mines adopted by the General Conference of the League of Nations on the 18th June, 1931. That is in the Bill, in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1.
I understand that the Secretary for Mines is going to deal with this important point either to-night or to-morrow. It is only right that we should know exactly what the Bill actually means. If the Secretary for Mines has something of importance to say which will ensure that at the end of these 12 months there is a likelihood of the confirmation of an international agreement of a seven and a-quarter hours day, that might alter our course of action. I could have wished that the President of the Board of Trade had told us that in his opening speech. It is not fair to the House of Commons to keep anything back which might alter the trend of the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman has not done so and, therefore, we are at a loss to know what is meant by Sub-section (2). Our complaint is that the miners are not getting a fair deal by the Government. This National Government has been returned in the hope that it will get stability in industry and deal equally with miners and coal-owners. There is no one in this House who will agree that the miners have had a fair deal. Seven and a-half hours without a guaranteed rate of wages does not put us in the same position as the coal-owners.
906 I should like to ask whether the Lord President of the Council is able to speak on behalf of the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister in his wisdom agreed to what we are asking; that is a seven and a-half hour day with a guaranteed rate of wages for the period. Has the Prime Minister changed his views; and if so why? What did the Prime Minister tell the electors, the miners, of Seaham Harbour? I imagine that he told them that they could stand by his promise as to what he had done in the previous Act of Parliament. He must have said that; I cannot imagine him saying anything different. We have a right to ask what is the present view of the Prime Minister. Has he indicated anything to the Cabinet on the lines of this Measure? If not, then the Cabinet should have found out what his views are. After all, he represents a mining division and those electors who sent him here, mostly miners, should know what his views are on this Measure. Every mining constituency is entitled to know his views.
On the general lines of the Bill I agree with the re-enactment of Part I of the Mines Act of 1931. In that there is a foundation for the betterment of the industry, but I should like to see Section 4 of that Act strengthened. If we cannot get a guaranteed rate of wages for more than 12 months then the Government should have insisted that the coalowners set up a national body to deal with the industry as a whole. If he had insisted upon that I think that we should have got the coalowners to our point of view. If the coalowners really believe in the efficacy of a National Government to bring about a turn in the condition of trade and industry they would have no fear of any fall in wages, there could be no objection on their part to discussing the question of wages over the whole industry. It is said that the reason why the coalowners will not deal with the National Board is because of certain leaders on that board. The hon. Lady below the Gangway in a speech on 3rd May said that the miners had been badly led. She was dealing with times gone by. Who will say now that the miners are badly led. The present Secretary of the Miners' Federation is recognised to be one of the ablest men who ever filled that position, but it does not make the slightest difference. Whoever leads the 907 miners we have never yet been able to get at grips with the coalowners. We are always told that we are being badly led. It seems that once a man becomes a leader of the Miners' Federation he is put in the category of being a bad leader.
The present Secretary of the Miners' Federation made a most telling speech, as a Member of this House, when the last Act was passed. He said it was his intention to do all that was possible to get an understanding with the coalowners without resorting to this House. He was cheered from all sides of the House with intensity and sincerity. He is the man who is in charge of the affairs of the federation. He is the man who has tried to get an understanding with the coalowners. Yet even now, when one would think that his advice would be taken, we find we are to be forced back at the end of 12 months to district settlements. For 12 months the coalowners will pay the present wages. I give credit to the President of the Board of Trade and to the Secretary for Mines. I believe that they have done all that was possible to get a more satisfactory arrangement. What is it that we fear? At the end of 12 months we shall be driven to the districts. Then we shall be faced, in district after district, with the statement that they cannot carry on and that wages must come down. The hon. Member who spoke last gave us a good instance of what that means. In many localities there will be men who want work, and rather than be out of work they will accept almost anything. The men will be faced with an application for lower wages. It may only be 6d. a day reduction. They see starvation facing them, and they say, "We will accept it." Once the game is started it never ends; round it goes to every county, until there is a gradual lowering of wages all round.
That is what we fear. We can visualise what will happen in 12 months time. Although the Government may have avoided a crisis now, at the end of that period they may expect a crisis, because we shall warn our men what it means, and we shall ask them to get ready for the coming struggle. I can promise that we shall not break it very quietly to them, as to what will happen at the end 908 of 12 months. Many of us have gone through past struggles and we know the privations that nave to be faced when a strike or lock-out occurs. We do not want to see these struggles any more. All of us have done all that is possible to ease the situation. We looked to the National Government to do something for the industry on this occasion. They have failed to do it, and there is a struggle ahead. I do not want the Government to blame the miners when the struggle comes. There is passionate feeling amongst the miners about what is happening here. Deep down they feel resentment against the Government. That passion will break forth at the first opportunity.
I say to the Government that they should not blame us for bad leadership, but should blame themselves for not having dealt with the situation when they had the opportunity. On the Mines Vote the Secretary for Mines recently made a most telling speech. I ask him now to read the peroration of that speech. He told the House that the miners were slaving day after day on a miserable pittance of wages. I want him to remember those words when the time comes for these wages to be reduced still further, for at the end of 12 months reduced wages will be demanded. If we could have got a pledge from the Government that the seven and a-half hours day would continue and that the present low wages would not be brought any lower, we would have agreed to commend the Bill heartily to the House. In the present circumstances we cannot do so. We shall fight the Bill for all we are worth. The fight will not have much effect on the House, but at the first opportunity we shall take care to remove the Bill from the Statute Book.
§ Mr. H. MITCHELL
In addressing this House for the first time the way of a new Member is made easier by the measure of indulgence which is now invariably accorded, and any apprehension which I may feel, after all that has been said about coalowners, must at any rate be tempered by the reflection that I am likely to find things easier than did that celebrated man, John Wilkes, who 160 years ago was elected at Brentford after the well-known Middlesex election, and, I believe, had to go though no less than three Parliamentary contests before he 909 was even admitted to a seat in this House. In intervening for the first time in a Debate upon a subject so intricate as the coal industry, I do so with great hesitation, and my reason must be that I have had the fortune, or perhaps I should say the misfortune, to be closely associated with the industry for the last 10 years. I appreciate the desire of hon. Members to reduce the hours of work. Any one who has worked in the collieries, as I have done, must know that the work is hard, and must know the risk involved; but I do feel that were we to do, as some hon. Members seem to desire, to fix the hours at seven, the only result would be still more unemployment in the industry and a still further loss of our export trade.
We have a much greater hope of seeing better times for this industry from other legislation that the Government have passed, than from any proposals in this Bill. I think that the best hope for the coal trade lies in that revival of industry which will come from the change in our fiscal system. Anyone who is familiar with the North and knows industrial areas where unemployment is so serious, realises the immense amount of damage that has been done to the coal trade by the ruin of its customers. In my own case I know how many of the steel works, the foundries and the textile factories with which we had a connection, in some cases going back nearly 100 years, are either shut down and idle or working short time. That is why, as one engaged in the coal industry, I should like to thank the President of the Board of Trade in particular for the active part which he has played in bringing about the new tariff policy of the Government.
I admit that, from the point of view of the coal industry, it may be a source of regret that most of the new industries which show signs of starting seem to find the Thames-side more congenial than the Clyde-side. Any regret in my case must, however, be tempered by a certain amount of satisfaction. Indeed, I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman were able to journey from this House to his constituency, and were he on that occasion to meet the traditional man with seven wives, every one of these people and any one else whom he would meet would agree with and support the Government's tariff policy. It would be optimistic to think that the coal industry is to regain 910 the whole of its former output. All of us who are in close touch with the trade must admit that we are not going back to pre-War times. Anyone who has had the opportunity, as I have had recently, of visiting collieries in competing countries, such as Belgium, France, Holland or Germany, must admit the seriousness of that competition. I fear that Government legislation and control of the coal trade from 1916 to 1921 played an unfortunate and important part in making those foreign countries expand their production of coal. We now find that the foreign quotas are far more deadly than tariffs, because where there is a quota there is practically no means of overcoming it.
All supporters of the Government will welcome the decision not to make foreign trade agreements before the Ottawa Conference. But are our hands entirely tied? Is there nothing we can do? Surely there are other means of bringing pressure to bear on foreign countries who raise their quotas against us? In answer to a question not long ago the President of the Board of Trade referred to the quotas of two countries as being inequitable. Surely our hands are not entirely tied? Take the case of France. Surely we have means of urging our protest? I noticed the other day that France still finds in Great Britain the best outlet for her steel. If we are not prepared to do anything regarding French steel, there are other pleasant things, things in demand at dinner parties, which France produces, and things not by any means vital to the welfare of this country. They might well be restricted. I believe the right hon. Gentleman himself was the first to draw attention to that possible line of action. Have the Government realised fully the immense power that this House has given them, now that we are on longer tied and shackled by Free Trade—the Free Trade tradition that laid down that whenever you received a blow you offered up a prayer to Cobden and turned the other cheek? We should use our power and tell these foreign countries that if they are to sell in our markets they must do something for us in return, in particular by giving us greater facilities for selling our coal.
I have touched on the more gloomy side of the coal trade, but there is another aspect which perhaps lends itself to a greater measure of hope. The fact 911 that we have left the Gold Standard is a thing of very great moment to the coal trade. Perhaps it affects that industry even more than manufacturing industries, because the coal trade draws practically none of its raw materials from abroad. We have now an opportunity of regaining our export trade in countries like Denmark and Scandinavia, an opportunity which has been denied to us for many years. But if we are to regain those markets we must allow industry freedom to produce. There is no use in, as it were, exchanging evils, in exchanging the Scylla of Free Trade for the Charybdis of quotas. By this Bill the coal trade has become engulfed in a sea of quotas for five years. I feel sure that the President of the Board of Trade has far too sound a knowledge of shipping not to be aware of these dangerous waters. I hope he will see that the ship with its valuable cargo of the coal trade of the country has a voyage shorter and less hazardous than the five years quota of this Bill.
I believe that Part I of the 1930 Act was born largely as a result of the 1929 General Election. Those of us who, on that occasion, contested mining divisions will remember that election. The principal purpose of the 1930 Act was to raise the price of coal, tout, possibly, in the backs of the minds of hon. Members who supported it, was the feeling that it would prove in the long run an easy way towards nationalisation. Representing as I do a constituency which does not produce coal but consumes coal, I object strongly to driving up the price of coal to too great a height, but even from my other point of view as one engaged in the coal trade I feel that these quota proposals will have the most undesirable effect. In considering legislation for the coal trade we must look at the subject not simply from the standpoint of the industry itself, but as a national question affecting the country as a whole. I have observed during the short time I have had the honour of being a Member of this House that some people, after trying every other means of getting something done, resort in the last stage to their Member of Parliament and often with the best intentions in the world it is impossible for the Member of Parliament to help them. The same thing is happening in the coal trade. Some people who 912 bave been unable to get the results to which they feel they are entitled, come finally to this House in order to get something done, and I fear that in this case all our legislation may not produce as much as they hope for.
I believe that the quota theory is inherently unsound. It arises from a failure to face and a dislike of facing unpleasant facts. Even Sir Ernest Gowers, with his wide knowledge of the coal trade, has described it as the very antithesis of rationalisation—a very striking comment from one of his great ability and knowledge. Can anyone suggest that these quota proposals are going to provide extra employment for a single miner unless—and this is an important provision—you are prepared by these regulations so to force up the price of coal against the home consumer that you will have a fund which you may use in order to sell coal cheaply abroad? That is a proposal which I, for one, would most profoundly deprecate. There is nothing more important at the present time than to eliminate inefficient collieries, and the quota will not help in that direction. If there is one thing which industry might hope to gain from a period of world depression, surely it is that the least efficient units in industry should disappear, and that when the period of depression comes to an end industry as a whole should find itself more efficient. Up to 1929 the world as a whole was comparatively prosperous. It is perhaps only in recent years that we have realised the fullness of that prosperity. Although it is true that the coal trade did not enjoy a corresponding measure of prosperity, nevertheless there was hope in the minds of those responsible for its conduct that that prosperity would also reach their own trade. Therefore, it was easy for those collieries which I will describe as marginal, to gain financial support and to continue in operation.
When the world depression came, in the ordinary course of events production in the coal trade was contracted just as production was contracted in other industries. But during the 1929 election to which I have referred, promises were made and those promises were followed by legislation, and the effect of that legislation was to give a fictitious value to even the least efficient collieries. They found that if they were unable to sell coal 913 at a profit, they could, at any rate, sell their quotas. In criticising the quota system I am speaking of something which I have observed at close quarters in the coal trade in Scotland. I would emphasise the extraordinary difficulty of working the quota system and its uncertainty, especially in regard to contracts. In the coal trade it is customary for contracts to run for periods of as long as a year in advance. Again, in a country similar to the one to which I have just referred, there is a clash of interests between the export and the inland trade which makes any unity extraordinary difficult. Further, you have what is perhaps the worst feature of all of these schemes, namely that managers are distracted from their proper work. How can a man properly manage a colliery if he has to spend a large part of his time attending meetings and going into schemes, and discussing the conduct of the industry, instead of concentrating his energies upon producing coal cheaply and efficiently, which is the crying need of the present time. I believe that minimum prices will be no more successful owing to the immense number of varieties of coal and the great difficulty of classifying them in any suitable manner. If it is really desired to force up prices in the coal trade, there is one way in. which it can be done, namely by grouping the industry into a series of giant trusts which will have the public absolutely in their power, and will be able to charge the home consumers any price they like. But I suggest that that is not a method of conducting the industry which is likely to appeal to a National Government.
I do not wish to embark upon the proposals of Part 2 which provide in certain cases for compulsory amalgamations except to say that I do not believe salvation for the industry is to be found in that direction. I desire to express the profound dissatisfaction which has been felt by a large part of the industry in considering the quota proposals. It. is obvious that you will not get unanimity in an industry where there are so many varying interests, but I am expressing the view of colliery proprietors who are producing 46 per cent. of the total output of Scotland, in criticising and condemning the continuation of this quota 914 for so long a period. I feel so strongly that the five years proposal is a mistake, that I intend to take any opportunity which may offer during the Committee stage to urge the Government to reduce that period. No business man could inspire me with more confidence than the President of the Board of Trade, but that is an additional reason why I should like to see the period reduced, so that any future legislation in regard to the quota may fall within the term of the present Parliament and so that we may have the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman's advice on any further laws we may pass. No industry has suffered more from too much legislation than the coal trade, and I endorse what has already been said on that subject by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. Some of the decisions of this House in reference to the trade may have been wise; others may have been made in error, but I would ask the House now to consider whether they are prepared to tie the industry to quotas for a further period of five years. If they do so, I believe that it will be a profound disaster to the trade.
§ Mr. CAPE
I desire to compliment the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Mitchell) on the able way in which he has presented his views. I do so very sincerely because to my mind his was an extremely clever speech. He was like a cat sitting between two stools and finding it very difficult to keep on both at the same time. I gather that he is connected with the coal trade—he went so far as to say that he had been employed in the pit—and, being interested in coalmining from an industrial point of view, it is natural that he should desire to receive as much benefit as possible from any investments he may have in the industry. On the other hand he says he represents a division in which coal is used and not produced and therefore from that point of view he is interested in keeping down the price of coal. If he has as much knowledge of the coal industry as he claims, he must be aware that, among all the wage agreements now existing, the miner's wage is determined by the revenue of the industry. Therefore, the lower the price of coal and the higher the cost of production the lower the miners' wages and the miners' standard of life. How the hon. Member can reconcile those 915 two positions is best known to himself, but his speech gave evidence that he is a coining politician.
We are disappointed by the text of this Bill, and I add my protest to those of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Sir A. Baillie) and the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) as to the manner in which it has been introduced. Those Members who were here on Friday received copies of the Bill, but before it has been possible for the mining districts to be thoroughly consulted on the Bill, its Second Reading is being debated in the House, although the coalowners knew for some time what the text of the Bill was going to be. That statement may be denied by the right hon. Gentleman, or the Secretary for Mines, but the very fact that the Bill contains the coal-owners' own proposals makes me feel that the owners knew what the text was going to be. The hon. Member for Brent-ford was very much disturbed in regard to Part I of the Act of 1930. So am I, but from a different point of view. He is disturbed because it is to be continued for another five years. I am disturbed because it is not sufficiently pronounced in regard to marketing schemes and quotas. I wish to say frankly, after our experience in regard to the working of that part of the Act, especially from the coalowners' side, that I think the President of the Board of Trade ought to have sufficient evidence to give him the right to tighten up those proposals in the Act.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow said that the industrial organisation of the mining community, both on the men's side and the owners' side was probably the best in the country, and he said he could not understand why we were unable to come to agreements like other industries without having to come to Parliament. The hon. Member is right as regards the organisation of both sides of the industry, and, in the districts, generally speaking, agreements can be arrived at for district working. But it is different when the coalowners appear as a national body. The difficulty is not on the miners' side. It is the coalowners who cannot agree among themselves. Every time the ooalownera meet as a national body they are unable to come to agreement as to what action should be taken for stabilising or benefiting the 916 coal trade. That is why Part I of the Act, has not been as great a success as many of us hoped. At present it is not the workmen's side of the industry which is averse from the working of that part of the Act, but the coalowners cannot agree either on marketing, prices or quotas and there are no bigger sinners in the whole of the British Isles in this respect than the Scottish coalowners. The last two speakers, although their accent was not very pronounced, seemed to me to come from the other side of the Border. I can understand their condemning everything and everybody, like the woman who saw her son marching out of step with a regiment of soldiers, and who said "The only man in step is my John." The hon. Members representing the Scottish side of the industry believe that the only coalowners who are in step with the requirements of the times are the Scottish coalowners, who are, as a matter of fact, the most backward of all the coalowners. We know what happened, when the Bill of 1930 was put through, with regard to the spread-over, which was advocated in this House by representatives from Scotland. The Scottish coalowners themselves even imposed an eight-hour day on the Scottish miners, and would not put the spread-over into operation. Therefore, I should be glad to be told, in private, as those two hon. Members cannot speak again in this Debate, what sort of a Bill would be satisfactory to the Scottish coalowners. No doubt they would prefer that the industry should be kept out of legislation altogether, because it would give them a free hand relentlessly to force down the conditions and wages of the miners in this country.
I hope the President of the Board of Trade will not think that he is giving us something in the shape of a gift in this Bill. It must be fully understood that when we received the seven-hour day in 1920, it was after the most searching inquiry ever held into the mining industry in this country. In 1926 we were forced, by pressure from the Government of that day and from the coalowners of this country, to abandon our seven-hour day and to go back to eight hours. That Act was for five years, at the expiration of which we were entitled automatically to go back to the seven-hour day; and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh 917 has already stated, we were told that by increasing the hours of work there was sure to be an abundant increase in the wages of the miners, but everybody who has followed the affairs of the industry knows that from the day when the Royal Assent was given to that Act right down till now there has been a, gradual decrease in the wages and a lowering of the conditions of life in the mining industry.
Last year, when the 1926 Act expired, it is true that there was a Labour Government in office, but it was not in power. We had the Prime Minister as our leader at that time, as the National Government have him at this time, and we consented, rather than put the country into either economic or industrial difficulty, that on an assurance being given that this year our seven hours day would come into operation, we would agree to a seven and a-half hours day and the condition that the minimum percentage prevailing in districts would also prevail for the lifetime of the Act then passed. We were trying then to meet the grave situation in which the country found itself, but to-day we are told in this Bill that our right to a seven hours day has gone. We allowed the Act of last year to go through, and the payment for our generosity is that that right, which we set aside last year, is taken from us this year, and we do not know when it will come back to us again. That is one of the reasons why I am against this Bill. It stabilises either the seven and a-half hours day or at the best what is called the Geneva Convention, whenever that is signed, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will agree that he is very pessimistic as to when that Convention will come into operation and that it does not look as if it will be during the lifetime of this Government.
In my view, this Bill means that a seven find a-half hours day will be put on the Statute Book until we are strong enough as a Labour party to take it off and replace it. The right given us by the Sankey Commission has absolutely been taken from us by trickery in 1931 and by additional trickery in 1932. I am sorry to have to refer again to the previous speaker, as it was a maiden speech, but he made many interesting points. He should never do that when he makes a maiden speech, but he cannot 918 make another, so he has lost his opportunity. He believed that the passing of the Import Duties Act was one of the greatest things ever done for this country and that the old fetish of Free Trade had disappeared, but he also said that we must do something to stop foreign countries putting on quotas against our goods.
He means that we should tell foreign countries that we want to do what we like and that we want them to do just as we think they should do as well. Has it not dawned on his mind—it has on mine—that the imposition of the foreign quotas on coal was brought about by the passing of the Import Duties Act? These people abroad will naturally try to defend themselves, and if the hon. Member is such an advocate of tariffs and Protection as a solution for all our ills, he must give people in other countries the same privileges as he claims for our country. Just as we impose tariffs and quotas on things coming into this country, they will impose tariffs and quotas on things going into their country from us.
With regard to wages, I want to compliment the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines on one point in the Bill. Where honour is due, a man ought to receive the benefit of any praise that may be flying about, especially if it is not very much, as in this case. I believe the right hon. Gentleman has accomplished a big thing in getting the coalowners even to give a guarantee that the wages will go on for 12 months, but I suggest that probably through his persuasion, though he would probably never tell the House this, the Miners' Federation and the coalowners were brought together, and it might be through his persuasion that the coalowners offered the same terms as have been in operation. That is why I said that the mineowners knew the text of the Bill while we did not know it until Friday, because it embodied their own proposals.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, and I want to accept the President's statement, that the owners will honour that pledge or guarantee, given for the next 12 months, so far as the minimum percentage now paid in wages in the districts is concerned, but there is no guarantee in regard to standard basic 919 rates, and the owners are still left with a free hand to bring down wages to starvation level, because in a good many districts the percentage is down nearly to pre-War level, and it cannot get down much farther.
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
Does the hon. Member realise that the basic wages have had no statutory protection in the last 12 months and that the guarantee gives protection in terms corresponding with those of the Act of 1931?
§ Mr. CAPE
I was beginning to compliment myself that I was going to get through a speech without being interrupted, a thing I have not done for a long time past in this House, but I want to thank the hon. Member for what he has told me. But I knew it already, because I have to deal with pits every week-end when I go home. It is true that we have no real guarantee on wages, that it is only a guarantee on percentage, and while it is true to say that during the last 12 months and for some years the owners have had that right, there was a protection in one of the Acts of Parliament that wages could not come down below a certain level. There is no such guarantee in this Bill, so I want the House to remember that if anyone here thinks the miners are going to get something out of this Bill, he is mistaken. We are not. We are not getting any gift, and consequently, when the 12 months come to an end, we shall find ourselves with a seven and a-half hours day on the Statute Book and no ratification of the Geneva Convention by that time at least. There is no protection, so far as wages are concerned, given to us by Act of Parliament.
If there is to be peace in the mining industry—and God knows we want it, if we can get it, whether we are on the employers' side or on the men's side—it must be remembered that we cannot have peace at any price. We want peace with honour, and therefore it seems to me to be quite reasonable to say, "Very well, if your hours have got to be stabilised at seven and a-half per day "—which, to my mind, means eight and a-half hours in my county in the largest pits—"wages also should be stabilised during the lifetime of this Measure." If that were done, coalowners and buyers could make long-term contracts and peace could pre- 920 vail in the industry, because there would be stabilisation with buying and selling at certain prices.
While one desires to see cheap coal, it should be remembered that every time you try for cheap coal and it becomes cheaper, less goes into the stomachs of the miners, their wives, and their children, because it is by the revenue that comes into the industry that wages are determined. While it is right and proper to think about the economics of the industry and of the nation, I want hon. Members also to think about the economics of the miner's home, because that to him is his life, and it is no good telling him about certain things prevailing in this country or in that country. He is working hard every day, and he has not the time to study the intricacies of the industry, the details of selling and buying, and so on. His chief economic outlook is his own life, and when he sees his children wanting for the necessities of life, either in clothing or food, that is the highest form of economics that he can see, and nobody can blame him for it.
We as miners' representatives shall oppose this Bill at every stage. We believe that it is a concoction of the coal-owners and a Bill designed to meet the desires of the coalowning class. It is a piece of class legislation and no consideration of any kind has been given either to the conditions in which the miners shall work or to the conditions under which they shall live. When terrible disasters take place in the mining world, when we hear of men being hurled into eternity, the sympathy of the nation is aroused, but when it becomes a question of safeguarding the miner in his ordinary daily life, the sympathy rapidly evaporates. Every time that you put coal on to your fire in your residences, remember that nearly every piece is sprinkled with a drop of miner's blood. I beg the House and the President of the Board of Trade to remember that we do not want sloppy sympathy. The only thing that we want is justice. In this Bill there is no justice for the miners, but every consideration is given to the coalowning classes.
§ Mr. SOPER
I represent a constituency in the heart of the Yorkshire coalfields. I am well acquainted with the pluck, the fortitude and the fearlessness of the mine workers, and I know, as hon. Members 921 opposite who represent mining constituencies know, how they always come to the aid of one another in times of distress. I have been associated with the mining industry from my earliest years, and, although perhaps fortune has placed me in favourable circumstances, I do not hesitate to say that I am the son of a miner who worked at the coal face. I say that because hon. Members have said to-night that the miner ought to be given a fair and square deal. I say the same, and yet there are always two sides to a fair and square deal. There seems to be a suspicion that the owners only are getting a fair and square deal and that the miners are not getting it at all. After hearing the lucid speech of the President of the Board of Trade, I do not think that that is fair criticism.
What is the position of the industry to-day? Output is down; exports are falling; thousands of miners are out of work, many of them in my own constituency; and the future outlook is black. That is the position, and I have been surprised that in the speeches which I have heard recently in the House nothing has been said about that side of the question, and reference has been made only to hours and wages. The seven and a-half hour day is to remain until the Geneva Convention is ratified, and that will mean seven and a-quarter hours. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would see to it that that Convention was ratified as soon as possible. Both wages and hours come together in this question. Can the mining industry afford to stabilise wages for an indefinite period? That is the question that must be asked, and I must say, frankly, that in my opinion it cannot. Though I represent a constituency in which 90 per cent. of the men are miners, I know that they would expect me to be true to what I believe are the facts. Why cannot the industry stabilise wages for a longer period? Ever since 1923 the mining industry has been languishing. I need not ask hon. Members to look at the share lists in the daily papers. I have no shares in colliery companies, so I cannot be blamed for mentioning them. We find 20s. shares down to 6s. and 7s. and some even less than that. Some of these shares were supposed to be gilt-edged securities.
I know collieries to-day in my own district which, when Friday morning comes, wonder if they will have the wages to 922 pay their miners. Yet we think that we can go on simply thinking of hours and wages only. I wonder how the coal-owners are able to guarantee wages for 12 months. I am pleased that they are doing so. Suppose that positions were reversed and some hon. Members were fortunate or unfortunate enough to be colliery owners instead of miners' representatives; if the boot were on the other foot, I wonder if they would guarantee wages for 12 months even? I will say this in favour of the mineowners. I believe that there is no mineowner and no Member of the House who would wish to see the wage level of miners reduced further. It is their greatest wish to see wages increase if the position of the country and the coal trade warranted it.
After hearing the President of the Board of Trade speak on reductions in wages on the Continent, I wondered if it would be possible for hon. Gentlemen opposite in some way to see that the wages in the Continental countries were increased to the rate of the British miner. That would probably to a large extent solve the problem which we are facing to-day. If instead of here, something could be done over there to raise the wages of the colleagues of our miners it would probably be much better for our miners. The greatest enemy of the coal trade to-day is to be found in the low wages paid to miners abroad, and until they can be raised it will be very difficult for the wages of our own miners to be increased, which is a thing all of us would like to see. I believe that the miners of my own constituency, at any rate, would rather see 12 months' wages guaranteed to them than wait and see if something else turns up and then find themselves out of work through mines being closed. I think they will be happy to know that for another 12 months their wages are guaranteed. It cannot be said of every industry that wages are guaranteed for 12 months. The President of the Board of Trade said that if this question were taken out of the arena of politics it would probably be the best thing for the industry.
§ Mr. SOPER
As the hon. Member knows, I have been here only since October. The question ought to be taken 923 out of the arena of politics and left to be dealt with in the districts. The mining districts differ from one another; the Barnsley coalfield is altogether different from the coalfields of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire; and it stands to reason that arrangements must be made by districts, if there is to be such an amicable agreement between owners and miners officials as will keep the collieries open and the men employed. I shall support the Second Reading of this Bill, because I believe it to be in the interests of the miners of my constituency, and I hope that better days will come to the mining industry.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Miss IRENE WARD
In rising to address the House for the first time, I crave that indulgence which has been so generously given to my predecessors, and I can only say that at this moment I wish that I belonged to that bevy of brave men and women who are already "over the top." In giving general support to the Bill before the House, I suggest that it would be in the national interest that we should discuss the whole position primarily from the point of view of the industry itself, quite apart from the many criticisms which will be levelled from all quarters at the Government for their determination to continue a Bill which is regarded in the country as a Socialist Measure. In listening to the speeches this afternoon I have been particularly struck by the fact that the majority of Members on the Government side are not tremendously active supporters of this Measure. I want to emphasise that the productive capacity of this country at the present time is 330,000,000 tons of coal per annum. Our output last year was approximately 219,000,000 tons. I do not think it is quite fair to assume that that is a maximum figure, because in envisaging a revival of trade I think we may assume that we are capable of disposing of at least 250,000,000 tons per annum as an outside figure; but that still leaves us in the position of having to remove from the markets of this country at least 70,000,000 tons as not being marketable.
However we may disagree about policy, we must undertake to produce some concrete scheme which will provide for the removal of that surplus tonnage from the 924 markets of this country. The remedies fall into three categories—(1) the survival of the fittest, (2) the closing of uneconomic mines, and lastly (3) the suggestion now before the House, namely, the quota restriction. I am not going to waste time in discussing past events, but it remains for me to say that even an economic blizzard has not been capable of eliminating those collieries which in the ordinary course of events are not cap-able of producing coal at an economic price.
I turn to what would be the most courageous method of removing the surplus tonnage, and that is by the closing of uneconomic mines. I listened with great interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater), but I suggest that unless there is legislation to deal with this matter we cannot get very much further in this direction. Displaced labour would finally find a place in the economic mines of the country, a return would be forthcoming on capital which was being employed in a proper manner, and, what is much more important, or equally important, there would be a fair return to labour, because by virtue of their wage agreements the miners would obtain an increased standard of prosperity from the efficient working of our collieries. Every inefficient, every uneconomic mine which is permitted to continue in operation is a direct attack on the standard of living of the miners and on the prosperity of the industry as a whole. The closing of uneconomic mines is a method which has been adopted in the Ruhr, where employment is concentrated on the economic pits. The late Socialist Government, by the introduction of a scheme for amalgamations, endeavoured to carry out this method of removing surplus tonnage, but I feel bound to say that that method was a failure, and I am one of those who very much hope that when the Government decide on economies we shall see the disbandment of the Reorganisation Commission.
I turn next to the practical issue before the House, and I wish to bring this point to the notice of those on the Government side who oppose this Bill on the ground that it is a Socialist Measure. The Socialist Government merely laid down principles for the removal of surplus tonnage and the fixation of a minimum 925 price, and then handed over administration to the coalowners themselves, which is scarcely "Socialism as she is spoken." The quota and the fixation of prices had been adopted by certain districts prior to the introduction of the Coal Mines Act. The quota system was introduced by the Midland Collieries Commercial Association, and the fixation of prices on a voluntary basis by the district of Northumberland. An examination of the latest statistical summary issued by the Coal Mines Department shows that those two districts, one an important inland district and the other an important exporting district, have the lowest costs of production of any districts in the country. If those districts which are in a position to produce coal at an economic price were of opinion that quota restriction and the fixation of a minimum price were desirable, then I think it may be assumed that there was no serious objection to the embodying of such principles in a Bill, and if we are agreed upon the necessity of removing surplus tonnage from the industry who would be able to carry out such a policy to better advantage than the owners themselves? I think those hon. Members who are supporting the rejection of this Bill on the grounds that it is a Socialist Measure would meet with very serious opposition in the country. I know those hon. Members who were returned as the supporters of a National Government were returned to support whatever is in the best interest of the country as a whole, and the mere rejection of this Bill on the ground that it was introduced originally by a Socialist Government would be very weak argument on the part of hon. Members of this House.
I now come to the more important matters under discussion. It has been urged that the Coal Mines Act is detrimental to trade, but, if we turn to the latest statistical summaries issued by the Mines Department, we shall see that in every district in the country, up to 31st December last, there was a credit balance. It should, however, be remembered that approximately 3d. per ton should be deducted from that balance to meet costs borne by the colliery owners which are not included in the statistical returns. If we consider this position in comparison with those statistical sum- 926 maries which were issued during the pre-Act years, it presents quite a pleasing picture. I do not claim that the coal mining industry is in a prosperous condition, for I think the reverse to be the case, but it affords favourable comparison with other basic industries. The point that I wish to make is that the position of the mining industry to-day, having regard to world trade and the state of other industries, is in a much more favourable position which may be attributed to some extent to the operation of the Coal Mines Act. Throughout the whole country last year a majority of the first-class collieries paid a dividend on their ordinary shares, and there was a small profit over the whole of the country. Another point is that there is less. unemployment in the mining industry than in our other heavy basic industries.. And, again, production of coal has recently dropped in Britain by 10 per cent. as compared with a drop of 12½ per cent. in world production.
I turn to the opposition which comes from those who make their living by dealing in coal. A great deal of active opposition to the Coal Mines Act comes from the coal exporters and the port authorities. They depend for their livelihood on the selling of coal, and it is immaterial to them whether there is a profit or a loss in the raising of the coal. That is all important, because it is not to the advantage of this country that we should raise coal at a price which is not economic, and, although the position of the various interests deserve the consideration of this House, I think that we should regard their interests in relation to the industry as a whole. I want to refer briefly to the position of my own county, Northumberland. It has been said that the Coal Mines Act has been extremely detrimental to the coal-exporting counties. It is true that the export trade has declined to an. alarming extent, but it is not a fair criticism that it is due to the operation of the Coal Mines Act, but in the main to heavy competition on the part of Poland, and the imposition of restrictions and discriminations against British coal in the European markets. It is quite impossible to deal with this matter without having some International or Imperial agreements. Although the position as regards the export trade is serious, and its great decline is a national disaster, we are at the same time holding 927 our own and even extending our inland trade.
We have listened to speeches from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen for many months past on high finance, and, although there are differences in the policy advocated, there has been a common agreement on one particular point, and that is that if there is to be a trade revival in this country, there must be an increase in the price of primary commodities. The Coal Mines Act was designed to raise the price of coal to an economic level, and I think it has achieved its object. I would ask those who are opposed to the Coal Mines Act to consider for one moment what the position of the industry would be if the Act were repealed. An unrestricted output would be followed by the cutting of prices, which would inevitably lead to coal being produced at an uneconomic price. This would result in coalowners asking for a reduction of wages, because they would be unable to bear the losses which would occur in the industry. I think we are all agreed that such a condition of things could not be tolerated. If we consider very carefully the effect of the Coal Mines Act, and what the condition of the industry would be if the Act were repealed, we must undoubtedly come to the conclusion that the Government have acted wisely in deciding to continue the Act for a further period of five years.
Before I conclude, I should like to say a word with regard to hours and wages. I very much regret that the owners and miners were unable to come to a. decision on this point, and I equally regret, if I may say so, that the Government did not find themselves in a position to guarantee wages. I am one of those who are particularly opposed, on principle, to Parliamentary control of wages in industry generally, but the mining industry is an a very peculiar position with regard to legislation, and I wonder whether, if it had been possible to guarantee wages for a period, that would have been too high a price to pay for harmony and peace in the industry. If I may 6ay so very humbly to the Government, I had hoped that they would be able to guarantee wages for one year, even if that had meant the hours agreement also "being limited to one year. I know that in saying this I lay myself open to the 928 criticism that that would not represent continuity of policy or certainty for the industry, which, after all, is what the mining industry requires more than anything else. The Miners' Federation, however, had for once decided to forgo the political advantage of asking for a return to the seven-hours day, and I think it would have been helpful if we could have met them and if all could have worked together for the prosperity of the whole industry. In giving general support to the Bill, I feel certain that, taking all the facts into consideration, the Government are wise in continuing Part I of the Act, and that hon. Members of this House will be wise in deciding to support it, because experience proves that, despite the fact that the Act was introduced in a time of great stress and under great pressure, if all parties work together for the prosperity of the whole, the retention of the Coal Mines Act for a further period will assist in the restoration of prosperity to the industry.
§ Mr. BATEY
We have just listened to a most interesting speech. There is one thing in which I agree with the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), and that is that the least the Government could have done would have been to carry forward the present condition of things, with a seven and a-half hours day and a guarantee of wages for the next 12 months. I am certain that I am voicing the opinion of all Members of the House when I say that we were extremely interested in listening to the hon. Member's speech, and shall welcome any further speeches that she may make in the House. The hon. Member will, however, excuse me if, after complimenting her upon the delivery of her speech, I say that, apart from the one point as to carrying on the seven and a-half hours day and guaranteeing wages for another 12 months, it contains nothing with which I can agree. Indeed, I thought when the hon. Lady was speaking that it was a good thing from my point of view that we did not live in the same house, because our views are so very far apart that we should never agree. The hon. Member rather dwelt upon the point that this Bill is a Socialist Bill. I am an old Socialist, and, the older I get, the stronger I get in my Socialism, but my difficulty is to find in this Bill from be- 929 ginning to end any tinge of Socialism whatever.
§ Mr. BATEY
The first Clause of this Bill carries on Part I of that Act, but there is nothing in Part I of the Act of 1930 that anyone can call Socialism. Indeed, when we passed the Coal Mines Act of 1930, the Prime Minister reminded us that it went a long way towards the opposite camp. The hon. Member for Wallsend referred, as a good many Members do, to uneconomic mines as an injury to the industry, but I have never yet found anyone who can tell me what an uneconomic mine is. How is it to be defined? My experience of coal mining is that some of the smallest and oldest mines, with the lowest seams, are the best mines, so that there is a danger—
§ Mr. BATEY
The best in profit and in wages. To say that because a colliery is an old one it is uneconomic is in my opinion a huge mistake. I have in mind a good many mines in the western part of the county of Durham, which people who have been to the eastern side of the county and seen the big collieries there describe as uneconomic mines which ought to be closed, but, if I had to choose, [would choose those mines. The hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Soper), who is not now in the House, said that he had been impressed by the fair and reasonable speech of the President of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade is not now here either, and I am sorry to make these remarks in his absence, but I confess that he has never on any other occasion impressed me as being so far from happy. He did not seem to me to be in the least in his usual element. He seemed to me to feel that he ought to be doing something that he was not doing for the miners, that he ought to be giving the miners fair play, but that, instead, he had to bow the knee to his masters the coalowners, and bring in a Bill which was distasteful to him, and which, even while he was introducing it. he realised was not a fair and just Bill.
I am not in the least surprised by this Bill. Indeed, months ago I prophesied 930 to some of my friends who were supporting the National Government that this would be just the kind of Bill that we should get. My friends who were arguing with me some months ago said, "We can trust the President of the Board of Trade," and they believed that the President of the Board of Trade would act fairly and justly; but I remember our experience in 1926, when even so strong a man as the President of the Board of Trade had to submit to the coalowners. I remember also, in 1926, hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, say to a full House, after we had complained that the coalowners would not meet the Executive of the Miners' Federation, that he would bring the coalowners round the table. He found, however, that he could not do it. The coalowners refused; he had to come to the House and confess that he could not bring them round a table with the Executive of the Miners' Federation; and within a short time the Cabinet was simply used as a sub-committee of the coalowners, and was forced to bring in an Eight Hours Bill. With that experience I prophesied months ago that that is just what we should get from this Government, and we have got it. The Bill enables us on the platforms of the country to teach the lesson to the working classes that, if they vote for a National or a Tory Government, they can only expect it to legislate in the interest of the capitalist and against the interest of the workers, and that is the lesson that we have to teach.
I believe the Minister of Mines will claim, even more than the President of the Board of Trade, to belong to the Liberals. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said at Cardiff on 17th December, 1927:The Liberal party means to utilise its power in the next Parliament to demand the establishment of permanent peace in the coal industry on the basis of fair play to those who toil in peril in order to serve the country. That is the pledge I give here and now.I wonder whether the Minister of Mines stands by that pledge, and if he believes in the miners having fair play. I asked him on Thursday—Will he state why the Government propose to legislate in the interests of the owners as against the miners?931Mr. Foot: On that I am sure the hon. Member has been misinformed. I have been in touch with the negotiations all through, and any such suggestion has no basis."— [OFFICIAL REPORT. 26th May, 1932; col. 535, Vol. 266.]9.0 p.m.
Will he say to-night that this Bill is in the interest of the coalowners and against the miners? I have never seen such a piece of pure class legislation in the interest of the employers and so much against the interest of the workers as this Bill. My complaint in regard to Part I of the Act is that the Government have learnt no lesson. They have not attempted to improve that part of the Bill. They ought not to have brought it forward without amending it. There has been 12 months experience of it. The Act has failed to do what we expected. We expected that it would stop competition and that it would raise prices so as to help in the raising of wages. It has failed in both respects. We have complained for long years against the competition which was simply ruining the industry. We said the coalowner simply went into the market and had no respect for the other coalowners. He sold his coal at any price he pleased, with the result that he pulled down prices and thereby pulled down wages. This part of the Act substituted district competition for county competition. The report by the Board of Trade under Section 7 of the Act on the working of schemes under Part I for the June to September quarter said:In the report on the working of schemes during the March quarter, 1931, it was said that, 'while regulation of output, on the whole, proceeded satisfactorily during the quarter, this cannot be said for price regulation.' Although progress has since been made, price regulation continues to present difficulties which, in the main, have arisen in the attempt to solve the problem of securing co-ordination of prices between the different districts. Without complete inter-district co-ordination of minimum prices, there is a danger that one district may secure an unfair advantage over another. The Durham Executive Board have complained, that after they had put minimum prices in force, some time elapsed before certain other competing districts followed suit, with the result that the Durham coalowners lost trade to those districts.That seems to suggest that even this committee realises the need of the prices between districts being co-ordinated. On the next page they deal with the Scottish position. They say: 932For many months the Scottish Executive Board declined to put a schedule of minimum prices into operation. Considerable dissatisfaction was felt by the other districts at this omission on the part of Scotland on the ground that it gave the Scottish coal trade an unfair advantage. In July the Central Council pressed the Scottish Executive Board to carry out the statutory duty of fixing minimum prices-and, as a result, minimum prices, both for inland sales and for shipment, were put into-operation during the first half of August. The Scottish minimum prices, however, were-alleged to have been fixed at a lower level than that at which business had been transacted in the recent past, which was the basis-adopted in other districts. Those districts with which Scotland is in competition, e.g., South Wales, Northumberland, and the Midlands, were still dissatisfied.That was in June to September. Then the committee reports again.
§ Mr. BATEY
It is not a committee. It is the report of the Board. Then we have the report for the December quarter. They say:Greater obstacles to the smooth working of the Act and the schemes are presented by price regulation than by any other feature. Without effective co-ordination of minimum prices as between all districts, or without good will between the districts, no individual district can derive full benefit from the operation of those prices.The 12 months' experience ought to have taught the Department the necessity, when they came to deal with the present Bill, of improving Part I of the 1930 Act. We shall have more time to deal with the matter in Committee, but I suggest that these are necessary improvements. It is necessary to co-ordinate the prices of the different districts so as to stop competition between the various districts, because there is not much sense in stopping competition between counties, and allowing it to go on between the districts. In the North of England we have been hit extremely badly in this connection, and the Government ought to have learned a lesson and tried to prevent the continuance of competition.
Another necessary improvement is the imposition of a levy. Here I come to-the question of the Liberal party and the Minister of Mines. When we discussed the question in the House, the Liberal party prevented a national levy from being included in the Act, and with- 933 out a national levy to help the exporting districts, the Act is not of as much use as it would be if there was power to raise a national levy. That is the second improvement I should like to see. Twelve months' experience ought to have taught us that the workmen should have a voice in the fixation of prices. One of the mistakes the Labour Government made in passing their Measure was the placing of immense powers in the hands of the coal-owners. At that time the workmen ought to have been given a voice in the fixation of prices. We should at least have had those three improvements in this Measure, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will keep them in his mind when the Bill is in Committee.
I turn to the question of hours and wages. The President of the Board of Trade seemed to forget when he was talking about a seven and a-half hour day that the period was far more than a seven and a-half hour day. It was seven and a-half hours, plus one winding, which means an additional half-hour. Therefore the Government are really giving the miners an eight-hour day. The miners still stand for a seven-hour day. I remember distinctly the time when we believed that we should get a six-hour day. I thought that the time would certainly come when we should get a six-hour day, and when a Tory Government increased the hours from seven to eight, it was with a bad grace that we put up with it. We are still entitled to the seven-hour day. Unless the Government are prepared to deal with wages and to give the miners a statutory guarantee with regard to wages, they had far better allow the Act to lapse altogether and the seven hours to come into force, and allow the miners to take care of themselves. I dare say that the President of the Board of Trade, remembers the experience of the North of England as far as discussions upon hours are concerned.
The Noble Lord the Member for Down (Viscount Castlereagh) who has spoken to-day has very large interests in collieries in Durham. He argued that he was opposed to the fixing of wages nationally, but he forgets that although he is opposed to the fixing of wages nationally, he is in favour of fixing hours nationally. He cannot have it both ways. The Government are fixing the seven-hour day nationally. The history of the hours' question in the North of England 934 is the blackest that anyone could read. To-day the Government are moving a Bill enforcing upon miners in the North of England a seven and a-half hour day, plus one winding, making an eight-hour day. When I began as a coal miner 47 years ago, I worked a six-hour day, bank to bank. In those far off days when shorter hours applied in the county of Durham, the pits paid better than they do now. When the seven-hour day came into force, the average time in Durham was only six hours 40 minutes, and yet we were prepared to agree to the national regulation of hours, believing that it would lead to the national regulation of wages. We have sacrificed the hours, and now we are losing wages.
The Government are ignoring the extremely strong claims of the miners for the protection of their wages. In 1912 we were able to come to the House and obtain a Minimum Wage Act. It was passed with the intention, in 1915, after three years' experience of renewing the Act. When 1915 came we were engaged in the War, so that ever since the Act has had to be renewed year after year until the minimum wage in the coal mines has practically become a dead letter. The only hope we had was that provided last year when the protection of a minimum percentage was assured, but not a wage basis. We were glad of that slight encouragement, but the President of the Board of Trade has now taken that from us. Some hon. Members to-day have spoken about wages, but 12 months from now the gentlemen's guarantee will expire, and the miners will have to meet the coalowners. I am not sure that they will not meet the coal-owners long before that time.
I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade to-day when he was speaking. I asked him what about the non-union coalowners, and he had to confess that while all the miners in the country are not in the Miners' Federation, neither are all the coalowners in the Mining Association. The coalowners who have given the gentlemen's guarantee to the President of the Board of Trade are those who are in the Mining Association, but they have no power to speak for the coalowners who are not members of the association. Suppose that on 8th July a coalowner who is not in the association says, "I am not bound 935 by anything to which the Mining Association gave a guarantee? I am not in the association, and I want a reduction of the wages of the men in the colliery."
Therefore, the very fact that an employer who is not in the Mining Association reduces his wages may make it impossible to carry out the gentleman's agreement. A coalowner who is in the Association will say: "My neighbour who is not in the Association has reduced his wages, and to compete with him I must follow suit." Therefore, we may see the gentleman's agreement interfered with. I believe that the coalowners who made that agreement and gave that guarantee will loyally carry it out as far as possible, but it may be made impossible for them to do so. Some of us have lived amongst the miners in the distressed areas all our lives. In the county of Durham, which next to Yorkshire is the largest coal producing county, the average wage in 1930–31 was only 35s. 5d. a week. The President of the Board of Trade will, therefore, understand our anxiety to protect those low wages, but he is leaving the miners at the mercy of the coalowners. Twelve months hence we may find that there is no hope for us, that the coalowners will be able to force their will upon the miners and that the miners may have to submit to the reduction.
Even far more important than the question of hours or wages or Part I of the Act would have been an attempt on the part of the Government to reorganise the industry and try to put it on its feet. In the last clause of our Amendment we suggest that reorganisation under national control is necessary in order to reinstate the industry in the economic life of the nation. I would commend that clause to the President of the Board of Trade. Reorganisation under national control is not only an urgent necessity, but the remedy lies there. Unless we can get the coal industry organised nationally and under national control we shall never be any better oft than we are at the present time. The last 10 years have convinced some of us that private enterprise in coalmining is an absolute failure. You can tinker with the industry as much as you like but so long as you leave it in private hands it will never be any better. Therefore, we stand for reorganisation of the industry under national control. If the 936 President of the Board of Trade cannot do anything better for the coal industry that will help the industry and the men and their families, who are right down in the pit of poverty, than this Bill, thin he is doing nothing to help them.
§ Mr. MARTIN
In rising to take part in the Debate I ask the indulgence of the House, which is usually extended to Members addressing it for the first time. It is with some diffidence that I intervene, first because I am a new Member, and, secondly, because I am fresh from a coal mining constituency. With even more diffidence do I follow the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who has had 40 years' experience of the industry as a miner and mining official. Perhaps for that very reason I may bring a little less biased mind and a less clouded vision to bear on the matter; and perhaps I shall be able to help those hon. Members who do not understand so much of the industry and its intricacies as the hon. Member for Spennymoor, by indicating to them how I have attempted to follow the problems myself.
I would particularly direct the attention of the House to the question of wages. Hon. and right hon. Members from the Opposition have stated again and again that a national wage agreement, or national control of wages, is the only possible thing, but I think that not one of them would for one moment deny the fact that only by local fixation would the miners themselves be satisfied, because throughout the whole history of the industry the miners have year by year built up a system which has grown from the fact that they have had to fight bit by bit for their rise in wages—the system of custom. There are several phrases which the hon. Member for Spennymoor used which are perhaps difficult for hon. Members to understand. There is the minimum wage, the basis rate, the percentage on the basis rate, the percentage addition to the basis rate, the ascertainment, the deficiency and several other phrases. The President of the Board of Trade said that he was surprised that the miner finds it so easy when he takes home his pay note to discover whether or not it is correct. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is because the miner is. so intimately concerned with the local arrangement and he knows it so well that he is able at a moment's notice to find 937 out whether he is getting the right amount; but for those of us who have the different arrangements throughout the country to consider, it is a very difficult problem.
The minimum wage was laid down by the Minimum Wage Act of 1912. That wage varied from district to district. There is also the basis rate for piece work, which varies from grade to grade and pit to pit according to the type of work which the man is doing. Then there is the percentage on the basis rate. That varies from time to time, and, further, what is very important, there is the percentage addition to the basis rate. That was worked out in accordance with the sliding scale based on the selling price of coal originally. Since 1921 there have been rates fixed according to periodical ascertainment. That ascertainment is worked out by representatives of both the owners and the miners. The books are examined by parties from both sides. On that ascertainment the actual wage paid is decided according to an agreement which gives 87 per cent. for wages and 13 per cent. to the owners, after costs other than wages have been deducted from the proceeds. It is interesting to look at the figures which result from this arrangement. We find that there have been what is known as deficiencies. In other words, the amounts have not been enough to pay the miner his subsistence or minimum wage. That varies in different counties. It was originally based on some figure in 1880 or thereabouts. In the county of Durham it is 65 per cent. on the basis and the Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire owners have all had to make up from their 13 per cent. a large amount of money to pay the minimum wage to the miner.
After those costs other than wages have been deducted from the proceeds we find that in the county of Northumberland, in 1928 to 1930, inclusive, the deficiency was £1,623,000, in Durham £5,787,000, and in Yorkshire £8,370,000. Last year, in Yorkshire, in one year, it was £1,936,205, and in Durham it was £1,695,000. In the county of Yorkshire since 1928 the total is £10,215,000 and in Durham £7,484,000. Surely that shows there is something extraordinary about the calculation of wages whereby the owners, out of what is called their fair share, have to make up the minimum wage by millions of 938 pounds a year? If in 1931 the division of 8? per cent. to 13 per cent. had been carried out, regardless of the percentage on the basis, Northumberland would have had an average profit of ll½d. per ton and Durham 1s. 0½d. per ton. When, however, the owners made up the deficiency, there was 87 of a penny profit per ton in Northumberland and 7 of a penny loss in Durham last year.
Surely there is some method which could be devised to obviate these deficiencies and which could, perhaps, give a better wage to the miner and a better chance of a return to the owner? I may point out that on the top of those costs, there is the cost of approximately 3d. per ton which the owners are not allowed to deduct from their proceeds as legitimate costs, namely, debenture interest and interest on bank overdrafts. We all know that most of the collieries in the North country are at present subsisting on large bank overdrafts. None of these charges are allowed to be included and they work out at 3d. per ton.
If we had a system whereby the owner had a guaranteed profit as well as the miner a guaranteed minimum wage on the basis of extra profits, it would be more beneficial to both miner and owner. Suppose the present enormous deficiencies were cleared off or in part cleared off. Many of them have been cancelled, but what is left will almost undoubtedly never be wiped out; they are known and admitted by the miners themselves as a so-called debt to the owners. But assume they are set aside, why could not there be some scheme whereby, after the payment of the minimum wage, say sixpence per ton should be set aside to the owners as legitimate profit, and thereafter any surplus proceeds divided in the ratio of 80 per cent. to 20 per cent., or some similar proportion? That would mean that when better times came and there were greater profits in the industry, the miners would also share in that and the owners would not get their share before raising the miners' low wages.
On that point of low wages, the hon. Member for Spennymoor has reminded us that 35s. 5d. a week is the average for the county of Durham. Everyone will agree that is a very low figure, but in the condition of the industry in these times, when the profits are so infini- 939 tesimal, or there are even losses, as I have pointed out, how can. there possibly be any sound argument for increasing wages as long as there is no increase in business? I have noticed that hon. Members on the Opposition benches have based their arguments for rejecting this Measure on the question of wages. They seem to have forgotten that the very fact that the owners have guaranteed wages for one year means that the owners cannot see that the loss which I have indicated in the county of Durham, or the very small profit in. the county of Northumberland, is going to be improved upon next year. I think, perhaps, that the President of the Board of Trade might have got some admission from the owners that they would guarantee the wages for a further period, conditional on an increase in business. But the very fact that they could not see their way to do it, and the Government therefore did not put i[...] in this Measure as a Statutory obligation, seems to me proof—and I think the miners themselves will accept this—that they cannot see that there is going to be any greater profit next year. Therefore, they are justified in not guaranteeing it for a longer period than 12 months.
I regret to notice that one or two hon. Members on the Opposition have spoken quite openly of making political capital out of this on platforms in the country. From both sides of the House we have heard speeches indicating that hon. Members are really concerned to arrive at a peaceful solution of the great problems that face us. I, myself, have every consideration for the miners, for I have seen the miners at their work and in their homes, and I know that most of the new Members who have come from mining constituencies feel the same as I do, that perhaps we may understand, with a fresher view than the old miners' leaders, something of the change that has taken place in the minds of the miners themselves. I think that perhaps the very fact that we have sincerely kept out of our speeches any suggestions of political capital is indicative that those speakers who go on platforms in the country and try to make political capital will find that we are accepted as better leaders of the miners than they themselves are. Apparently, the hon. Member for Spennymoor jestingly agrees with me, 940 but may I quote a phrase which he used in reference to the President of the Board of Trade, to whom he referred as "bowing to his masters," the owners?
§ Mr. MARTIN
Does the hon. Member really believe that the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Mines have not made any sincere attempt to solve the difficulties that confront them, but have simply sat down and listened to the dictation of the owners? Does he think that the owners themselves have tried to dictate without trying to find any real solution?
§ Mr. MARTIN
The same hon. Member drew attention to certain defects in the 1930 Act, and on this point I agree with him, but he forgot that the remedy for these defects is contained within the Act which the Socialist Government passed. It is extraordinary that although the owners have, in their district boards and central board, absolute power to correct these defects, not one single suggestion has been brought before Parliament. That is a criticism, I know, against the owners, and although they have discussed it during this period they have not brought before Parliament a single suggestion as to improvements which might be made in the machine. There are many things in the machinery of Part I which admit of evasions and irritations and inconsistencies, which may be difficult for the producers and sellers of coal to bear, but all these things can be remedied by the owners themselves. The very fact that they are having difficulties abroad should have made them come to the House of Commons with proposals which we could consider, and to which we could give our assent or dissent. I took the trouble to ask the Secretary for Mines whether they had discussed any remedy for the present difficulties, and the answer was "No"; they have tried not to interfere and have left it to the owners themselves to bring forward a solution. I am not one of those who is in favour of a greater bureaucratic control of industry, but I would suggest to the Secretary for Mines that he himself might indicate a solution to the owners which the owners themselves might con- 941 sider and in their turn put before Parliament.
One of the matters which I may not be allowed to discuss at a later stage of the Bill is a national levy on the whole of the coal trade to help the export trade. Such a levy is favoured by the Miners' Federation, and would undoubtedly aid the exporting districts of Northumberland and Durham. As the representative of a Durham constituency I hope that some such scheme will be worked out by the owners themselves in order that the export trade, which is badly hit at the present time by foreign competition, will have some chance of competing again in the markets we have lost. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) pointed out that many hon. Members in their speeches on the currency question referred to the necessity of raising the price of primary commodities. Surely the criticism which has been levelled against the 1930 Act is that it has kept up the price of coal and not allowed the coalowners to sell their coal at a lower figure to make their profits, or get rid of it, and that it is an absolutely wrong policy to pursue.
If it is true that we should raise the price of primary commodities surely it is true that we should control the price of coal at an economic level and not allow the owners of smaller concerns or concerns with cheaper working costs to get rid of their coal at the expense of the rest. On that point I disagree with the hon. Member for Wallsend, in so far as I cannot see that it would do any good to throw coal communities, whole villages, completely out of work because the pit in which they are employed is a so-called uneconomic pit. Like the hon. Member for Spennymoor I have not yet discovered what an uneconomic pit is, but at the same time it is undoubted that those pits which cannot carry on under the present scheme will naturally go under, and those people who thus come on to the unemployed market will be the right percentage of people rather than an artificial percentage thrown on to the unemployed market by artificial means. When the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. G. Nicholson) was speaking there was a certain amount of jeering criticism from the Opposition when he proposed that 942 we should all work together in co-operation to solve these difficulties. If the Opposition are determined to carry out the duty of an Opposition and oppose at any price then their stock will definitely go down in the mining communities of this country.
§ Captain McEWEN
The pleasing duty falls to me to congratulate the hon. Member for Bladon (Mr. Martin) on his very interesting and able maiden speech, and as this is only the second time on which I have had the courage to raise my voice within this august assembly I feel that it is somewhat presumptuous on my part to extend these congratulations to him, but it will be generally admitted that he has nobly won his spurs in a difficult field and I know well the satisfaction and the feeling of conscious achievement which I trust and believe he is deservedly feeling at this moment. Where so many experts have spoken it behoves one who has no claim in that direction to tread rather warily and I only intervene to raise briefly two comparatively small points. In the first place I should like to say that while I agree with what has been said as to the effect of the quota system in Scotland yet I am certainly going to give this Bill my whole-hearted support.
The first point which I should like to raise is this: It has always seemed to me in the comparatively brief time which I have devoted to a study of the coal problem that one thing stood out above all others, and that is the undoubted feeling of suspicion which exists in the minds of the miners with regard not only to the owners but also to all Governments of whatever complexion. It is hardly relevant to this discussion to trace back the origins of this suspicion, but if I were asked what they were I should certainly point to the Report of the Sankey Commission of 12 years ago as possibly marking the beginning of the worst stage of this unfortunate feeling. That being the fact, I venture to express a doubt as to the process outlined in the Bill, a. doubt as to whether the discrepancy between the limited wage period and the unlimited hours period is the best or the happiest way of allaying that feeling of suspicion. The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate stated that immunity from politics for the industry was assured for five years by the Bill. I wish 943 I could share the right hon. Gentleman's optimism, for I do not comprehend the grounds on which he based it. As regards hours, everything depends on, the ratification of the International Convention, to which, in spite of the cold water poured upon it by one hon. Member, I still pin a good deal of faith. That faith, I hope, the statement of the Secretary for Mines will not altogether shatter to-morrow.
My last point is simply this. The public—of course, I speak quite generally —are nauseated by the apparent inability of the two sides in the industry ever to come to an agreement. When one hears of conferences between them beginning, it is a pretty safe bet that the end will be deadlock sooner or later. I am not going to be rash enough to apportion the blame to this side or that, but, as the hon. Member for Leominster (Sir E. Shepperson) aptly put it, to my limited rural intelligence it seems unbelievable that more publicity is not given to these negotiations while they are in progress. I am not advocating open diplomacy, for I know perfectly well that open diplomacy is the death of true diplomacy. But I do think that some measure of publicity would assist matters by at least threatening to let the public know which of the two sides was stiffnecked and intractable. I fail to see that any very grave harm would come by such a fact as that being made known generally.
§ Sir WILLIAM JENKINS
I listened carefully to the President of the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to continue the seven and a-half hour day for an unlimited period and wages for a period of only 12 months, by arrangement with the coal-owners. He also said that he had had some difficulty in getting the coal-owners and the miners' representatives to agree. I have had a good deal of experience in meeting the coalowners and making agreements from time to time. When I have met them at local collieries to make local agreements, I have not found it difficult to make arrangements. When one gets an individual owner at close quarters one may be able to get better terms; but when the owners come together they are the most difficult and 944 obstinate people I have ever met. When it becomes a question of making an agreement for a coalfield on no occasion have I known the owners willing and ready to find an easy solution of the difficulties that face them. I have had experience in South Wales and on several deputations to Government Departments when the owners were present. I remember how obstinate the coalowners had been for years before 1912, when we got the Minimum Wage Act. We had been trying to get some agreement for fixing a wage for men working under abnormal conditions, but we had not succeeded, and we had to resort ultimately to a general stoppage. I remember that the then Prime Minister had to introduce a Bill into this House, and within 24 hours the Minimum Wage Act of 1912 was passed.
I can quite understand why the President of the Board of Trade said to-day that he had been unable to get the coalowners and the miners to agree. This is not the first occasion on which a President of the Board of Trade has been absolutely in the hands of the coalowners. The Government of 1926 were dictated to by the coalowners. On another occasion, in 1915, things were prosperous and there was a good deal of money in the industry. The President of the Board of Trade met representatives of miners and owners of South Wales in London on several occasions, and he then was unable to get the owners to agree. After he had told us what he was able to get from the coalowners even the Government turned it down and said, "You have not gone far enough, and we are going to give something more than you have been able to get the owners to agree to." In a book recently issued by a coal owner he uses the phrase, "All the insane competition that there is amongst business men." Yet while all these people are competing and quarrelling the miners are unable to get a living wage.
What we are asking for in the Amendment is that some guarantee should be given for wages. Why should the men not get a guarantee? Let me. give instances of what the owners proposed to do with the miners in South Wales until they were compelled to act otherwise by legislation. I shall quote actual offers which were posted at pitheads. The men were told that unless they were prepared 945 to accept these terms the collieries would not reopen. Morning shift men on the 5s. standard were receiving a wage of 47s. 3d. per week. The owners' terms were 37s. 6d., a deduction of 9s. 9d. Men on the afternoon and night shift were receiving 47s. 3d. The owners' terms were 31s. 3d. a week, a deduction of 16s. Continuous shift men, who were working Saturday evenings and Sundays, were receiving 62s. 6d. per week. The proposal of the owners was 43s. 9d., a deduction of 18s. 5d. Every standard rate, 5s., 5s. 3d., 5s. 6d., 5s. 10½d., 6s. 6d., and 6s. 10½d., was affected. The average rate for the 6s. 6d. and 6s.10½d. standard men at that time was 52s. 9d. a week. The rate offered by the coalowners was 45s. 4d. For the afternoon and night shifts the average rate was 52s. 9d. and the proposal of the owners was for 37s. 9d., a reduction of 15s. a week. These people had the opportunity given to them of trying to come to an amicable settlement with the workmen, but they were not prepared to consider anything reasonable. I think the leaders have on each occasion endeavoured to meet the situation fairly but when they are as stubborn as they have shown themselves to be as business men—and it was pleasant to hear a colliery owner speaking on this subject in the way that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) did—when they are as stubborn as they have been in their methods of dealing with the coal situation, then I think it explains the position in which the mining industry is at the present time.
Let me give another reason why the miners should get an increase and should get a guarantee. The miners are paying a greater penalty to-day than any other class of people in this country. It is not a question of a seven and a-half hour day. It is a seven and a-half hour day plus a winding time, which makes it eight or eight and a-quarter or eight and a-half or even nine hours in some places. [Interruption.] It is supposed to be plus one winding but they are working underground much longer than eight hours in many cases at the present time. The average rates for the four quarters of last year were as follows: For the quarter ended March, 43s. 4d. a week; for the quarter ended June, 41s. 6d. a week; for the quarter ended September, 41s. 4d. a week; for the quarter ended December, 44s. 7d. a week. These are the figures 946 issued by the Mines Department and not made up or published by any association. One has also to consider the enormous expense cast upon the miners since collieries have been closed down in various places. They have to go long distances now to get work and I know instances in which men are paying from 4s. up to as high as 8s. a week out of their wages, in omnibus fares in order to go to the collieries in which they are working. When a man in addition to that pays 10s. a week rent and loses an occasional day's work in the week, what wages has he to bring home?
Are these men not entitled to some consideration? I ask the House to have regard to the number of men who are killed and injured in our mines. In the year 1927 alone the number injured was 172,611 and the number killed was 1,121. Take the last five years, the number of men injured and maimed in those years was 814,159 and the number killed was 5,036. Surely it is not asking too much to ask the Government to give a guarantee to these men who were so loudly praised in 1914 and 1915. There were no more loyal men in this country than the miners. They had to be called back from France and other places to carry on the industry. But what are they offered to-day by this National Government? When there was a national demand, when there was a call to defend the country, they took a foremost part and I have not heard from any individual who was on the battlefields that these men did not play their parts there manfully and loyally. Now they are back in the country, some of them maimed, some of them getting no pensions, although they were in the trenches and as a result are to-day unable to follow their employment. Surely they are entitled to consideration, when we consider the number of men who are killed and injured in this occupation and when we consider the low wages that they are getting, because unscrupulous people are selling the commodity which they produce and are not providing sufficient for their proper subsistence. Is there any other kind of industry in this country which has to provide a subsistence wage because the wage laid down in the men's agreements is not enough to maintain them and their families? They have to submit their case to independent chairmen and because 947 these people do not understand their jobs, varying rates are being paid to men who are doing precisely the same kind of work. The men have been divided into different grades, such as single men, married men, men with so many children and so on, each getting a different rate of wage I contend that when there is no other industry in the position of having to provide a subsistence wage these men ought to have a guarantee and I hope that the Government between now and the Report stage will introduce an Amendment in this Bill providing for such guarantee.
May I first assure the hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) that I have quite as much feeling as he has for the welfare of the miners and as much appreciation of their valuable characteristics. In the course of this Debate we have heard many interesting speeches, speeches far better than I could hope to make, but I submit that many of these speeches created an atmosphere of unreality in regard to the economic effects of the industry. We all agree that the first charge on the industry ought to be a good wage for the miner. We all agree that he is one man in the country who deserves a good wage. We all agree that he is brave and efficient and has one of the worst of jobs. The point on which we differ is as to how we can secure that wage for the miner. I suggest that the only way of doing so is to enable the industry to work at a real profit. I submit that no owner wishes to sell his coal cheaper in order to make less profit. He wishes to sell it cheaper in order to make more profit, and that brings me to the point which I wish to raise.
In giving partial support to this Measure I would draw the attention of the Secretary for Mines to one feature in the Coal Mines Act of 1930 which in my belief is going to threaten not only the miners' wages and standard of living, but the whole economic structure of the mining industry. I assure my hon. Friends on the Opposition Benches that I have approached these questions with an open mind and I have always had before me the fact that, although I have half-a-dozen friends who are mineowners, I have hundreds of friends who are miners. Therefore, let me assure my hon. Friends that I speak with completely 948 unbiased feelings. My one idea is to secure the efficient working of the industry.
It seems to me that the miner and the mineowner have up to now been like two men in a pair-oared boat, with one oar on this side and one on that side. They have been rowing upstream, but instead of trying to go up the river, they have been trying to go to one bank or the other—on the one side the Capitalist system and on the other Nationalisation. Neither of them has been intent on the progress which is essential for the welfare of the crew. They decided to take a cox in the ship, but he was a politician. He was put over the rudder, and they have gone round and round in political circles ever since.
The worst thing that the politician has done has been the stringency with which the quota system has been applied to the mining areas. It is based on several false assumptions. In the first place, it assumes that there is always going to be a market for sufficient coal to give all the collieries some work, and, secondly, it assumes that the coal mining industry is a static industry instead of being more dynamic than any other in the country. We have been given examples of the immense dangers that threaten the industry. In my submission, the chief dangers are not the cut-throat competition from their fellow-pits. There are two chief dangers. One is the danger of cheap wages on the Continent, and the other, and I believe the even greater danger, is the danger from alternative forms of light, heat and power, and from inventions. Only the other day they have invented a new range which will cook all the year round with four tons of coal, and all these schemes for keeping up the price of coal are only giving the oil producer, the hydraulic power scheme, and electricity in various forms a definitely increased hold upon what used to be the happy hunting ground of the coal industry. In consequence, this particular aspect of the Act is acting in restraint of trade.
May I take individual cases as to what has happened? Some hon. Members talk with some scorn of the royalty owner. I submit that the man who sells a quota is still more parasitic on the industry than the owner of a royalty, because the latter makes nothing unless the mine is working at a profit, but the owner of a 949 quota can sit down, sign his name, and sell it, rendering no work at all, and still discharge men from his mines. Then take the man who has to buy the quota—the man who can produce most efficiently, obviously, because he exhausts his quota within the month and has to buy more in order to complete his order. He has to pay for that quota 1s. 9d. to 2s. in order to avoid the fine that is imposed if he produces more than his quota. Therefore, you are taking the dead wood from the inefficient pit and saddling the efficient producer with that dead wood. You are giving a subsidy, for no services rendered, to the owner of the pit who cannot produce his coal at a sufficiently economic rate to sell it in the open market. As regards the consumer, you are raising the price of the coal to him, and not only so, but you are also raising the price to the British manufacturer, and that will be reflected in his competitive power with the foreign manufactured articles.
I earnestly beg this House to consider this matter. So much of this business is going on in my own constituency. Thousands and thousands of pounds are being spent in buying quotas, and it is going into the pockets of men who have rendered no service for that money, less service than the royalty-owner; and so much so that a whole new class of person has been invented. My hon. Friends here are out against the middleman, and undoubtedly there are too many middlemen in this country, but the quota system has invented a new middleman, the quota middleman, who battens on the profits of the coal trade.
Then I submit that it has a special application to the export trade of this country. There are in my division alone pits that are perhaps the best equipped pits in Europe. People come from all parts of the world to see how these pits are mechanised and lighted. They are capable, in the Lothians, of exporting 75 per cent. of their coal—that is to say, 75 per cent. of it is suitable for exportation—but they actually export only about 25 per cent. In bargaining for export trade, these efficient pits are definitely limited by the fact, in the first place, that they have a quota which they have to buy in if they are going to complete an order, and, in the second place, they have to bear the extra price of that quota, which may just mean the extra 950 dead weight that may lose them an order. It may be a very close thing, and a shilling a ton may very easily turn the bargain as to whether the Polish or the French mine will get the deal. If the man has already produced his quota, he has to add that 1s. or 1s. 9d. to his costs, and he loses the deal in consequence.
I would urge upon the House that not only the industry, not only the consumer, not only the manufacturer in this country are suffering from the quota system as at present worked, but that the miner himself is operating against the interests of the miner and is unjust to the owner as well, as I will show. In the ordinary progress of the trade you will find that the less economic pits—and there are such things. I know of cases of economic and uneconomic pits within 15 miles of each other. In one you can work in a top hat and spats, and in the other you are wet up to your waist, and these pits are next door to one another. In the fulness of time I hope to see a gradual drifting away of miners from the pits where they get wet up to the waist as they work, to the pits where you can go down in a top hat and spats, although I did not actually wear them when I went down. I hope to see the expansion of those good pits and the elimination of those pits where no man ought to be allowed to work. Therefore, this particular part of the Act is directly opposed to the interests of the miner himself in very many cases. It acts as a tight bandage to restrict the circulation of the labour in the mines. The healthy flow to the healthy mine is restricted, and the men are kept in the dead pits that ought to he put out of commission altogether.
It is unjust to the owner also. There are two classes of owner, and here again I know both classes. One kind, not always through his own fault, has had to follow the policy of taking out all that the business can stand. He must pay a dividend to the shareholders, so he has taken it all out. I know other mines in which for 10, 15, even 20 years not a penny has been paid in dividends, and the whole of the money has gone in outfitting and constructing machinery, with the result that they are the most efficient pits in Europe. What do you do for that man? You say to him, "I am going to limit your production, and you will have to pay the man who has taken every bit 951 out of his pit that it could stand for the last 20 years. You will have to pay him in order to produce what you could produce and what you have the right to produce." It is not a case of:Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things";it is a case of, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou wilt share it with the man who has not been a good and faithful servant." One argument that has been used in favour of the retention of the quota is that the owners are divided; there are 45 per cent. on one side and 55 per cent. on the other. It is a parallel case to the judgment of Solomon. There the evidence was exactly fifty-fifty, and exactly the same reasons can be given for this as for the case of the two women. In each case the owner of the dead baby would be very pleased to have the live one cut in half and distributed. In this case the owner of the inefficient pits or the least efficient pits is anxious to have a quota allotted to him in order that he can be paid by the owner of the more efficient pit.
In no other trade does this practice operate. Imagine a farmer who had a cow which was a very fine milker, and who cut her ration of food so that she should yield only the same as the worst cow. Imagine a chicken which laid so many eggs a week and which had its food cut down so that it should lay only the same as the chicken which laid the fewest. This system may stave off some unpleasant developments for the moment, but it is gradually undermining the efficiency and economic solidarity of the entire industry. Instead of only a few pits being put out of work, more pits will be put out, and the whole industry will be in such a position that it will not be able to compete with foreign producers or with alternative forms of power. Although I shall not oppose this Bill, I urge the Minister to take steps to modify, if not to put a much shorter limit upon the operation of this particular Clause, which I believe to be not only flying directly in the face of economic laws, but tending to put further off, if not out of sight, the return of the welfare of the miners and of the prosperity of the industry which we all have in view.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
This Bill consists mainly of one Clause of two Subsections, one of which is opposed by the official Opposition, and one of which seems to be receiving a good deal of criticism from the supporters of the Government. With regard to the first Subsection which has been criticised by supporters of the Government, I am bound to say that in the part of the world where I live we are distinctly puzzled about why it is added to the Bill, and I hope that the Government will make it clearer than they have done what are the reasons which have actuated them. The people on the North-East Coast are puzzled when they see the export trade steadily going down, in particular since the Act was passed, and they are not convinced by the figures which are given when month by month they find their export trade becoming less and less. They are also puzzled because they find that they are working on a very small profit. The export counties in the last quarter of last year had an output of something like 25,000,000 tons, and, while the counties which supply the home trade had a similar output, the profit in the one case was £110,000, and in the other £1,300,000. On the North-East Coast, therefore, they are puzzled to know why those who make the larger profits should receive greater advantages under Part I. They are also puzzled to know why this minimum price is allowed to continue, because they find it to be a greater objection in the export trade than any other. I express no strong personal view on that one way or the other, but I would add my voice to those who would like a shorter time-limit in Clause 1 of the Bill, in order that a review could be made somewhat earlier than is at present intended.
The second sub-section of the Bill deals with the thorny question of wages. The Opposition appear to want a guaranteed wage in addition to the guaranteed hours. What puzzles me is what is the good of either the guaranteed day or the guaranteed wage if a colliery is not working? If the guaranteed wage and the guaranteed hours put the colliery out of business, the miners get no money at all, and are worse off than before. I think one can overdo the fixation of hours and wages in an industry like the coal industry, which requires flexibility in order to cope with the ups and downs of market condiitions. It is really greater 953 elasticity in bargaining which is needed, and because that sub-section is a step in that direction I think it is very valuable. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) talking about the shorter hours he used to work in Durham County some 40 or 60 years ago. Of course, my recollections do not go back so far as that, but I have an idea that when Durham and Northumberland worked those shorter hours and the hewers did a six-hour day they were not members of the Miners' Federation, and that one of their little rewards for joining the Miners' Federation was to get a longer working day.
The illustration is a very good one. It shows that bargaining over wages and hours is far better done by districts. If there are district negotiations there will be district variations in the future as there have been in the past, and I hope they will vary to the benefit of the men, so that the workers in a district may get the greatest possible advantage out of any trade which comes to their district. Like many other hon. Members I represent a good many miners, and I have always had a soft corner in my heart for the miner. Members who represent mining constituencies seem to me to pay too much attention to Acts of Parliament in relation to wages. When a crisis comes we have seen, time and time again, not only as regards mining but other industries, that Acts of Parliament "go west" and are amended. I do not believe that miners' wages or hours depend half so much upon Acts of Parliament as upon public opinion. I believe that public opinion as a stay in miners hours and wages is far stronger than Acts passed by this House. The miners almost always have the sympathy of the public. When there is any trouble the miners have the backing of the public, but the owners never get any support from them, and I am perfectly certain that that fact always makes itself felt in this House, and that it is a far more reliable stay to miners' conditions in the present state of the world's trade than a too rigid system of the fixation of hours and wages by this House can ever be. That is all I have to say about wages.
There is one other feature which I should like to mention, and it is one which so far has received very little attention. I refer to the necessity for having cheap coal and the best way to 954 secure it. Unless we can keep coal at the present price, we are running risks which the coal industry cannot face. I suggest that the coal industry depends for its welfare upon the prosperity and revival of industry as a whole in this country. The price of coal is now too high, and this Bill will raise the price something like 2s. a ton. Of course, all that does not go to the coalowner because his pits have to work short time, and some of the 2s. a ton goes to meet the wages bill of railways. That means that freights cannot be reduced. In factories and other industries the high price of coal prevents that trade revival upon which the welfare of the coal industry depends. If we could find some means of cheapening the price of coal, we should get a greater demand for coal, and consequently greater prosperity for the coal industry. I have mentioned that fact because it seems to me to have been lost sight of in the discussion.
I may be told that this is not the moment to talk of cheapening coal and relaxing restrictions on the coal trade. In matters of this kind, when we ask for relaxation of restrictions, we are always told that now is not the time to do it. My experience of other industries is that the sooner you get on with the unpleasant business of facing the music, the better it is for all concerned. Although I approve of Clause 2, I cannot say that I approve so much of Clause 1, and I hope that the President of the Board of Trade and the Government will do all they can to remove restrictions on the coal industry at the earliest possible moment.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
The hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Clifton Brown) has put to the House a somewhat difficult conundrum. He has asked which would the miners prefer—guaranteed wages along with guaranteed hours, or guaranteed employment? On this side of the House we are not prepared to admit that that is the position which is now confronting us. We are not called upon to choose between guaranteed hours along with guaranteed wages and guaranteed employment. That is not the position. We have found by bitter experience that, when wages and hours are not guaranteed, employment is not guaranteed. 955 The hon. and gallant Member seems to put it that, if we would forego guaranteed wages and hours, employment would be guaranteed to all the miners, but his knowledge of the mining industry is far too extensive for him to believe that. He then tells us that the great need of to-day is cheap coal. I sat here last week and the week before listening to speeches from the other side of the House telling me that the great need of the industrial life of this country was the raising of prices, and yet, a few days later, we are told that, while the prices of other commodities ought to be raised, the price of coal ought to be lowered. We are not opposed to cheap coal. So far as we on this side of the House are concerned, if cheap coal will secure prosperity for this country, you can have coal as cheap as you want it. What we are concerned about is having cheap coal at the expense of the miners. We are not prepared to assent to cheap coal if a miner has to go home with a wage that is insufficient to maintain himself and his dependants. If the House will devise some scheme which will guarantee to the miner a reasonable living wage, our interest in the price of coal will cease. Our only reason for wishing to see the price of coal related to the miner's wage is because the miner's wage is determined by the revenue of the industry, and that revenue is determined by the price of coal.
What is the reason for introducing this Bill now? We are told by the President of the Board of Trade that it is because the Act of last year is about to expire in a few weeks, and that, if it did expire, we should automatically return to the seven-hour day. Therefore, this Bill has been introduced to prevent the mining industry from working a seven-hour day. It has no other purpose but to prevent the miner from getting back to the seven-hour day which was taken from him by a Conservative Government in 1926. The House should appreciate that fact. We, however, are not asking that we should return to a seven-hour day so long as we get, in return for not asking for it, the present wages guaranteed. We think that that is a very reasonable request; I will return to the point a little later.
Another question that concerns me is as to why this Bill is being rushed 956 through. The first intimation to the Miners' Federation of the nature of the proposals in this Bill was given to them last Wednesday night, and on Thursday night of the present week the Bill will have passed its Third Reading in this House. The Government must know that for the Miners' Federation to consult its constituent bodies takes time, and we do not consider it fair that the Government should introduce legislation in such a way as to prevent the Miners' Federation from consulting its constituent bodies. We have called a conference for tomorrow. We shall report the proposals of the Government to that conference, and the delegates will return home and consult their constituents, who will come to a decision as to what their attitude shall be towards these proposals. In the meantime this Bill is to be put on the Statute Book, and the miners will be placed in the position of having to decide as to their attitude towards the law of the land.
We consider that that is a very unfair method of dealing with the Miners' Federation. There was nothing to prevent the Government from taking the Second Reading to-day and to-morrow, but deferring the Committee stage for a week or so, thus giving the Miners' Federation time to consult its constituent bodies and obtain instructions from them as to what attitude it should take. It may be that it will be made more difficult for the Miners' Federation to decide on industrial action if this Measure is made the law of the land before they have an opportunity to decide anything, but I see before me one of the fairest-minded men that I have ever met, the Lord President of the Council, and I do not think he can approve of a method which deprives nearly 1,000,000 citizens of this country of the opportunity of forming a decision on the question until the law of the land has been made, and interposed as a difficulty in the way of their deciding as to what course they shall take. We in the Miners' Federation take strong objection to this hurry in dealing with the question. We know that it had to be dealt with before July, but it could have been dealt with before July without depriving the miners of an opportunity to discuss in a proper atmosphere their attitude towards this proposal.
957 As regards our insistence on wages being made dependent on hours, we are simply saying that, if you decide to continue the Section of the Act relating to hours, in all fairness you ought to continue the other Section referring to wages. I remember in the discussion last year the present Home Secretary, in a very clear and lucid speech, as all his speeches are, saying:The negotiations in their simplest form appear to have amounted to this. The owners were anxious that the miners should continue to work what is called the seven and a-half hour day. The miners were anxious that their wages should not be reduced. The miners said to the owners, 'Guarantee our wages for a year and we will work your hours for a year.' The owners said in reply, 'Work our hours indefinitely and we will guarantee your wages for a year.' The position taken up by the mineowners seems to have been an unreasonable one. The agreement should have been a guarantee of wages for a year in return for longer hours for a year, or else an indefinite guarantee of wages in return for an indefinite continuation of the longer hours. It is quite true, as the mineowners have said in a statement recently published, that the time limit of 12 months involves a new crisis in 12 months, but the time limit consideration applies to wages as much as to hours and, with a wages guarantee for 12 months only, the crisis would have occurred on that basis as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July, 1931; col. 1764, Vol. 254.]
§ Mr. ISAAC FOOT
The hon. Member will remember that in an earlier part of the speech the Home Secretary said it was a most dangerous precedent to bring in a statutory provision as to wages, and he hoped that precedent would not be adopted. There is nothing to prevent the negotiations to which the hon. Member now refers taking place in 12 months time between the owners and the miners.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman does not make the position any better for himself. I agree that the Home Secretary was then, and I suppose is now, opposed to any statutory guarantee, but what we are asking is not altogether a statutory guarantee as such. We are saying that before the Government brought in this Bill they ought to have said to the owners, "For whatever length of time the hour Section of the Bill operates, so must the guarantee of wages operate." The Government must not think that they can divest themselves of all responsibility by saying, "We got them to agree to 12 months." We say to 958 the Government, "If you fail to get a guarantee beyond 12 months as to wages, you ought to refuse legislation beyond 12 months on hours." All we are saying is that, if you are going to give the owners exactly what they ask for on hours, you must give the miners exactly what they ask for on wages.
It is no use the President of the Board of Trade saying that the Miners' Federation leaders are the hardest negotiators in the world. I deny his right to judge the miners' leaders as negotiators. He has not negotiated with them. All that he has done has been to arrange meetings between the owners and the men. They met. At their first meeting the men were told by the owners that wages were outside the sphere of the discussion. The proceedings were reported to the President of the Board of Trade who said, "Leave it to me. I will see them." At a later date he saw them and he said, "Go again and you will find them in a different frame of mind." They went again, and their different frame of mind is that they are prepared to give all that is in the Bill. The Government cannot deny that the Bill carries out the wishes of the owners. I know that the President of the Board of Trade earlier in the day said, "Ah, but they came to that because of my reasoning with them." [Interruption.] "It was my persuasive power which brought them there. It was pressure by the Government which brought them there."
Why did the coalowners make this concession to the President of the Board of Trade? What the owners said was, "We can get an indefinite seven and a-half hour day from the Government, but only if we give some period of a guaranteed wage. We cannot give a shorter period than 12 months, as it would be unreasonable. We will give 12 months' guarantee, and when it comes to an end the matter will be left in our hands and we can then deal with it district by district, and those districts which cannot continue the guarantee will have a reduction of wages. We shall not have to face the whole Miners' Federation, but just special districts." We on this side of the House believe that that was the sole reason why the owners gave the guarantee to the President of the Board of Trade. Our Amendment does not confine itself to that side. We feel that now that we are deal- 959 ing with the mining industry, there ought to be an effort made to deal with the question on constructive lines. We had expected that that would have been done during the year. We were promised it by the Prime Minister. The following statement was made by the Prime Minister to the Miners' Federation on 30th June, 1931, to be exact, at 4.30 p.m.:We shall certainly not allow the owners to go on during the next 12 months without making preparations for meeting the circumstances at the end of the 12 months, and we will insist upon bringing before them their duty so as to put the industry in a position to enable them to expand when the 12 months are over, expand either in the sense of reducing hours or of giving more wages as you agree with them—or national negotiations, but that is as a red rag to a bull. However even that will come when you get to the right position although it will not come at the moment.He also made a statement to the owners on 26th June, 1931, at 10.45 p.m.:If the temporary 12 months' period expires before the ratification has been accomplished, the Government undertakes to take steps to extend the 12 months' period over such further period of time as may be covered by an extended guarantee on the same terms or on such later terms as may be agreed between the Mining Association and the Miners' Federation.Where does the Prime Minister stand upon this question? He represents a very strong mining division in Durham. He delivered a message to his mining constituents last October. He said to them, "You trusted me on a previous occasion. I did what I could for you as miners in the Labour Government. All I ask of you is to repose the same trust in me now, and I will deal the same with you." We want to know whether he said, in addition, "I will get you a guaranteed wage accompanying a guaranteed seven and a-half hours day. If you send me back to represent Seaham, I will see to it that the miners' wages are safeguarded if their hours are safeguarded." Did he say that? We want to know where we stand upon this question. No one has more sympathy with the Prime Minister in his present trouble that I have. But our trouble on this question is that we feel the Prime Minister is guilty of a glaring inconsistency. We are unable to get any statement from him as to where he stands on the question. We in the mining industry, knowing that he represents a very powerful mining division, feel that his 960 attitude ought to be made known before this Bill leaves the House.
The other section of our Amendment deals with national negotiations. Upon this question we feel very strongly. We have heard that we cannot expect guaranteed wages to continue beyond 12 months, and we are asked to look at the variations in the industry. One hon. Member, who could not have been a mining Member, asked us to look at the variations in the different districts and even in different collieries. If, like many of us, he had worked underground, he would know that there are variations in different pits. You could carry this thing until you would not have even a pit agreement. We know the variations, and our contention is that national negotiations are necessary because a miner is a national necessity. It may be that he is confronted with geological difficulties in some districts as against another. He encounters the same risks, he faces the same dangers, he works for the same period and for the same purpose, and his wages ought to be regulated by national machinery. We have always contended that you have no right to say to a miner: "Because you work in a thin seam, or in water, or you are confronted with some geological difficulties, you shall have worse treatment than men working in a better seam and under better conditions." We have said that the only right and proper way to handle the wages question of the miner is nationally, and in support of that I could quote Members of the Government who have agreed that national negotiations ought to regulate miners' wages.
In regard to the constructive side, we stand for nationalisation. We believe that the nation will never get from the mining industry what the mining industry could give to the consumer and producer until it is a national, unified industry, controlled nationally. I remember listening to a speech in the other House a few years ago dealing with this question, but I am a little afraid whether I ought to open this book of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the other House, and read from it. I refer to a speech delivered by the Lord Chancellor. I am informed that tomorrow night the Attorney-General will reply to the Debate. I would like him to be good enough to deal with his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chan- 961 cellor. The Lord Chancellor, in dealing with the 1930 Bill, said this:I may be asked where I stand on nationalisation. I have not changed my mind. I still firmly believe in nationalisation.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
I was afraid so. I was watching you all the time, in case you might object. The position is that the Lord Chancellor, not only in the other Chamber but elsewhere in the country, has made it clear that he is still as loyal a supporter of nationalisation as he was when he took the chair of the Royal Commission in 1919. That is where we stand. We find that even district amalgamations are failing to achieve the purposes of the industry. We have always felt in regard to this industry that if you are going to allow any owner or any person anywhere to sink a mine simply because he thinks that in that area he will be able to secure personal private profits for himself, there will be no hope for England. We consider that the coal of this country is a national asset and ought to be preserved for national purposes and not used by some single person or private company, here, there and everywhere, regardless of the national welfare.
I want to refer for a moment to the international position. We realise that this industry, like many others, cannot be dealt with on national lines. We cannot disregard what is happening in other countries in the coal industry. We know that if on the Continent miners are working for wages substantially lower than they are here or are working longer hours—I do not for a moment admit that they are—that is bound to influence, to some extent, the position in this country. Therefore, we think that something ought to be done internationally. Let the House remember that this Bill connects the question of hours with the international position. It tells us that any future shortening shall be dependent on what happens at Geneva. If Geneva varies the hours and we come to an international agreement for seven and a-quarter hours, then, and only then, shall we enjoy a working day of less than seven and a-half hours. It is not enough for the Minister of Mines to get up and tell us that when the other great coal-producing countries agree to ratify, we will. 962 What we ask is that effective and vigorous action for the ratification of the Convention should be taken by this Government. We are not very confident or optimistic, but that is our plea.
We do not think that the Government should connect the further shortening of hours with the Convention, unless at the same time the Government are going to pursue as vigorously as possible the ratification of this Convention. Our fear is that these words in the Bill are simply words and do not mean anything. We notice that the attitude of the owners was definitely opposed to any ratification. If the Government tell us that any further reduction in the working day is dependent upon international action, all we say is that if that be the case, it is up to the Government, in order to honour their own statement, to do all they can to secure ratification. We realise the difficulty, but if we are to connect this position with that outlined by the President of the Board of Trade, who says the Government will not ratify until all the great producing countries do so, our statement is that the Government ought to pursue their own policy. I do not see why they could not have given the seven and a-quarter hour day in this Bill. The Government should show an example to Europe, and say that they are not going to wait for the ratification by other countries, but that the British mining industry on 8th July, is going on to the seven and a-quarter hour day as an example and as an inspiration to other countries to go and do likewise. We doubt whether the Convention will be ratified by this Government.
Finally, I want to touch on the human side, and without any apology. Many of my hon. Friends, when referring to the human side, do it in an apologetic manner. I do not think that is necessary in this House. I consider that human sentiment, human feeling and human sympathy are the finest things in the world. We should not be apologising simply because we are going to say that the miner is a human being. An hon. Member from South Wales made reference to what the miners did in the War. We were told by another hon. Member that public opinion was always sympathetic to the miner. Imagine where this country would be if those 840,000 men were not prepared to descend into the bowels of the earth 963 morning, noon and night in order to produce the coal necessary for this country. Imagine how poor the country would be. Imagine what the country owes to the mining population, and then realise our duty to the miner, by giving to the adult miner in Lancashire, the underground labourer, a guaranteed wage of 7s. 9d. a day as long as the Bill operates. Tell him that he can go home to his wife and five or six children with 33s. a week. That is all that we ask. Is it asking too much? Tell the adult miner on the surface that he can go home to his wife and children with 30s. a week. That is all that we ask the Government to do in this Bill. Since he is to remain at a seven and a-half hour day, since you are depriving him of half an hour, give him in return a guarantee of this paltry average wage of 33s. a week for an underground miner and 30s. for the surface worker. When the Secretary for Mines is making his speech to-morrow I hope that he will tell us something about the efforts being made to get the owners to agree to something beyond 12 months, and that if they will not he will help us to get something in the Bill which will safeguard these low wages as long as the hours operate.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.